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A to Z Writing: Fewer vs. Less

An editor’s job is to find fault, although always for a positive outcome. The goal, of course, is to create less confusion for readers by leaving fewer errors in place upon publication.

How can a wordsmith tell when to use “fewer” and when to write “less”?

This is one of my personal pet peeves. It’s all about word choice.

Both words point to smaller size or quantity. However, “fewer” fits for items that may be actually counted. “Less” goes with things that cannot.

Here are a few correct examples.

Wendy Writer wanted to make fewer grammatical errors, but Penny Proofreader just hoped to see less sloppy writing.

The librarian planned for less work, discarding piles of periodicals, in the hopes of shelving fewer magazines at the end of each day.

Dieting is simple, but difficult. Eat fewer calories to gain less weight.

Dina dined on fewer fries than Daniel, as her carbohydrate craving was considerably less than his.

Got it?

Of course, the English language is notorious for notable exceptions to nearly every grammatical rule. Writers may correctly use the word “less” to refer to amounts of money or mileage.

For example:

Dale spent less than 40 dollars on that dress. What a find!

Dylan drives less than three miles to work daily.

Simple, right?

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Related Items:
From: Sam Loyd’s Cyclopedia of Puzzles
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  1. Great post for Fewer or less.
    do check out my F at GAC a-z

  2. Great service you are providing. Thanks.

  3. Hahaha.....this is cute! I have less yarn than I thought, so I'll need to make fewer stitches in my pattern design.

  4. Great reminder! This is one of the "few" grammar rules I have penciled in the front of my AP Style book as a quick reference! :) ~ Angela, Whole Foods Living,


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