#193: Less vs. Fewer in English — Advanced English Grammar

by | Dec 2, 2020 | 32 comments

When you begin to reach a more advanced level in your English skills, it’s important to fine-tune the little things. To fine-tune means to make small changes in order to improve or make something exactly right.

And that’s what we want to do with your English grammar skills today. We’re going to fine-tune your skills with two commonly confused words: less vs. fewer in English.

Less and fewer both mean the opposite of more. Because they have the same meaning, they are easily confused and there’s an increased likelihood of making mistakes.

For example: In this sentence, which word should I use?

  • I know you want to make less/fewer mistakes in English.

In today’s Confident English lesson, you’ll learn:

  • a general rule of thumb* to follow when deciding whether to use less or fewer
  • 4 important exceptions with examples
  • tips for how to practice and remember this grammar rule.

Less vs. Fewer in English — Advanced Grammar

General Rule of Thumb for Choosing Less vs. Fewer

In short, fewer is used when we’re talking about count nouns* and less is used with noncount nouns*. Let’s look at some examples.

Here are 3 common count nouns: tourists, cars, mistakes

  • During the winter months, there are fewer tourists here in Washington DC.
  • With improved public transportation options, there are fewer cars on the road, which is definitely improving traffic congestion in the city.
  • Understanding the differences between less and fewer will result in fewer mistakes.

 

And now let’s look at three common noncount nouns: light, salt, stress

  • The winter months are so tough because there’s less sunlight during the day and the nights are long.
  • The doctor said he should eat less salt.
  • In an effort to have less stress in my life, I’m working to develop a meditation habit.

 

*For a full list of count and noncount nouns to practice with, please continue to review the lesson below.

4 Exceptions When Choosing Less vs. Fewer

Thankfully, there are not a lot of exceptions and there are just 4 categories to remember.

  1. Distance (miles, kilometers, meters, inches, etc.)
  2. Money (dollars, cents, euros, pesos, rupee, etc.)
  3. Time/Weight (hours, minutes, days, years, pounds, kilos, ounces, etc.)
  4. Statistical information (75,000 people, percentages, etc.)

To help, let’s review some examples:

  • We have less than 100 km to go. We’re almost there!
  • Wow! We can get tickets to Rome for less than $100 right now.
  • The price of milk is $2 less at the other grocery store.
  • We have less than 48 hours to get this project finished!
  • He weighs 3 kilos less after consistently working out for the past couple of months.
  • There were less than 20 people at the event.

Practice Using Less vs. Fewer in English

Use the lists of count and noncount nouns below to practice creating example sentences with the right choice of less or fewer.

You can share your example sentences in the comments section below.

Common Count Nouns

Desk

Project

Phone

Tourist

Museum

Meeting

Discussion

Doctor

Song

Suitcase

Toy

Car

Train

Computer

Printer

Folder

Receipt

Message

Comment

Word

Common Noncount Nouns

 

Music

Mail

News

Traffic

Chocolate

Travel

Laughter

Help

Advice

Work

Furniture

Clothing

Money

Music

Garbage

Junk

Vocabulary

Information

Research 

In today’s lesson, I shared my top strategy to learn and remember this grammar rule: time, focused practice, and repetition.

Follow that formula to ensure that you develop automaticity for when to use less vs. fewer in English.

A good way to do that is to practice with the word lists above including:

  • Common count nouns
  • Common noncount nouns
  • Nouns in the ‘exception’ categories

As always, you can share with me in the comments below. It’s the best way to practice, get feedback, and learn from others in the Confident English Community.

~ Annemarie

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