Fewer or Less
These two words are not interchangeable. I see many incorrect usages but the rules about how they are used can be easily explained. Can you tell which of these sentences is incorrect?
~ I’ve written less books than some authors I know.
~ I’ve written fewer books than some authors I know.
Or how about:
~ I spend less time writing than I do editing.
~ I spend fewer time writing than I do editing.
~ There were less pencils on his desk.
~ There were fewer pencils on his desk.
In some sentences, you can tell when it doesn’t sound right. Here again is when the rule “write how you speak” does not apply. We all use colloquialisms and never notice our poor grammar, maybe till we become writers. But keep in mind, an avid reader knows when a sentence is incorrect and will make mental note of it. Too many of these errors and the reader will become frustrated and, perhaps, not read another story or book by that author.
The rule is:
~ The word fewer applies to individual quantities.
~ The word less applies to items in bulk.
My Oxford dictionary offers this:
“Make sure you distinguish between fewer and less. Use fewer with plural nouns, as in there are fewer people here today; use less with nouns referring to things that can’t be counted, as in there is less blossom on this tree.”
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