Friday, November 2, 2012

The difference between "less" and "fewer"

The word "less" is misused all the time.  In movies and TV shows, sports broadcasts, commercials, the news; everywhere.  It really irritates me (my mom is going to love this post, as a child she repeatedly drilled the proper usage of the word into my brain), and when I saw a Presidential candidate make the mistake I decided it was worth writing about:

Sorry TBS.
This clip was from the second debate.  Romney should have said "fewer jobs" (although he could have said "less debt").  The rule is, if it's something you can count, you say fewer.  One of the most common misuses is with the word "calories."  Something can't have "less calories," it has "fewer calories."  Although it can have less fat, but also fewer grams of fat.  Check out my recent post "Anorexic Margarita" for the proper usage of both words.

Is this funny?  Useful?  Does it just make me sound pretentious?  I'm not sure, and I have no idea what category to put it in.



  1. Oh, man, you hit an old retired English teacher right where he lives -- especially one who truly enjoyed teaching grammar. The structure of language (not just English) is endlessly fascinating, consistent enough to actually facilitate communication but flexible enough to accommodate the most convoluted of ideas.
    The late, great George Carlin always said there were about four categories that he would try to work into one of his comedy shows. One was peculiarities about language, an interest for which he credited his mother. (My mom got me hooked on crossword puzzles as a lad!)

    Another way to distinguish "less" and "fewer" (unless my out-of-practice brain is overlooking something obvious): "less" always modifies a singular noun while "fewer" is for plurals.

    While I'm here, let me offer this:
    A logical dude such as yourself may well have a sound critique of my reasoning.

    Re Rondo: His antics in the Miami game (the tech and Wade foul), despite the impressive numbers, concern me. Maybe snapping that streak and a little humility wouldn't be an altogether bad thing...just a thought!

    Good stuff, as always


  2. Another spectacular comment. Thanks for stopping by.


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