Fewer vs. Less

Grammar Tips

Grammar Tips from Mainstay Editorial Services Fewer vs. Less

Fewer and less are adjectives that describe nouns, so to begin this grammar tip, let’s discuss nouns, specifically countable and uncountable nouns. Countable nouns are objects you can count – cups, oranges and plates. Uncountable nouns are objects you cannot count – water, air, information and courage.

When determining if you should use fewer or less, you need to think about countable and uncountable nouns. Here’s why:

Fewer refers to numbers and means not as many. Fewer is used with countable nouns.

  • Example: She has fewer oranges. You can count the actual number of oranges the girl has; therefore, fewer is the correct choice.

Less refers to a degree or quantity and means not as much. It is used with uncountable nouns.

  • Example: That cup has less water.You cannot count the drops of water in the glass; therefore, less is the correct word.

Exceptions to the Rule

Of course, every grammar rule has an exception, and this one is no different. In fact, this one has a few exceptions.

Even though we can count our money, we tend to think of it in bulk. So, we use less when talking about money. Example: You have less than $20.00 in your wallet.

Yes, we can count time in seconds, minutes, hours and years. Still, it is more common to use less when referring to time. Example: I have less time to finish my test.

We use less when writing about weight. Example: The orange weighs less than the apple. 

Helpful Hints

Rules. Exceptions to the rules. Does all of this leave your head spinning? Here are two tips that can help you keep it straight.

1. Use fewer with plural nouns.

  • Examples: She has fewer cups of coffee. He has fewer oranges.

2. Use less with singular nouns.

  • Examples: She has less coffee. He has less money.

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