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Is it “Fewer” or "Less"? The Naughty Grammarian Explains

Updated on February 25, 2017
CatherineGiordano profile image

Catherine Giordano, aka "The Naughty Grammarian," has had her fiction, non-fiction, and poetry published in books and periodicals.

Who is Miss Grammers?

Allow me to introduce my alter ego (a second self; a different version of one’s self), Miss Grammers. The name was chosen, obviously, to play off of the word, “grammar.” However, Miss Grammers is making two additional allusions with this name.

Miss Grammers wishes to compare herself to Miss Manners, the doyenne (a woman who is the most respected or prominent person in a particular field) of etiquette because Miss Grammers endeavors to become the doyenne of grammar.

Miss Grammers also wishes the reader to think of the archetype (a recurrent symbol or motif in literature, art, or mythology) of "The Naughty Librarian," a woman who appears prim and proper, but who, on occasion, can kick back and kick ass.

Miss Grammers also endeavors to surprise and amuse. To that end, Ms. Grammers shall be a little bit naughty and use text more appropriate to a romance novel than a treatise (a formal written presentation that discusses a subject carefully and thoroughly) on grammar.

Miss Grammers has already been a little bit naughty, sneaking in a vocabulary lesson before she even gets to the main point.

Did Miss Grammers Have a Few Too Many?

Miss Grammers felt entitled to a glass of wine, but this fevered fantasy suggests she may have had a few too many.
Miss Grammers felt entitled to a glass of wine, but this fevered fantasy suggests she may have had a few too many. | Source

When to Use “Fewer” and When to Use "Less"?

Miss Grammers must admit that she is very peeved that so many people misuse the word “less.” When she watches the news on TV, she is appalled by the number of presumably well-educated hosts and guests who do not understand the distinction between “fewer” and “less.”

Miss Grammers observes that people often use “less” when they should use “fewer.” The reverse is not an issue. People seldom use ‘fewer” when they should use "less.”

Fewer or Less

Say "fewer kisses" or " less kissing," but never less kisses.
Say "fewer kisses" or " less kissing," but never less kisses. | Source

Use “Fewer” with Things That Can be Counted.

Use “fewer” when referring to something that can be counted (actually or theoretically). It is used with a concrete noun, a noun that denotes an actual thing. “Fewer “is usually correct when the noun is plural.

“Ever since Linda returned, Melanie had fewer chances to see Doug.” (Since the number of “chances” can be counted and “chances” is plural, it is incorrect to say “less chances.”)

Use “Less” with a Thing that Cannot Be Counted.

Use” less” when speaking of an abstract quality, a mass of something, or anything that cannot be counted. The noun is usually singular.

“Melanie thought she had less of a chance to win Doug’s affection since Linda had returned.” (In this sentence “chance” is used as an abstract noun and is singular, so “less” is correct.)

A Chart for Fewer and Less

 
Fewer
Less
Type of noun:
Concrete nouns
Abstract nouns
Singular or plural:
Plural
Singular
A quantity or a quality:
A Quantity--Things that can be counted
A Quality--Things that canot be conted
Example
.Do we need fewer loves? (“Loves” refers to physical things or people.)
Do we need less love? ("Love" refers to an emotion.)

Are There Exceptions?

Miss Grammers regrets to inform you that there are some pesky exceptions.

Common usage allows for “less” to be used with units that denote measurements, distance, amount, or time. This is because the unit is considered to be a single bulk amount.

“Linda had returned less than two weeks ago and already Doug was less affectionate towards Melanie.“ (“Two weeks” is one amount of time.)

“Melanie and Doug stood less than six inches apart, but it might as well have been six miles.” (“Six inches” is one amount of space.)

Sex Gets Attention

Miss Grammers hopes that "sex" has gotten your attention. Now continue with the lesson.
Miss Grammers hopes that "sex" has gotten your attention. Now continue with the lesson. | Source

What About Collective Nouns?

A noun that refers to a collection of things is still a singular noun and requires “less.” Miss Grammers mentions this because she wishes to be complete, but she cannot think of an instance when “fewer” was used in place of “less” with a collective noun.

“A traditional romance novel has fewer sex scenes than a modern romance novel.” (“Sex scenes” is plural and countable so “less sex scenes” is incorrect.)

“A traditional romance novel has less sex than a modern romance novel.” (The word “sex” in this sentence replaces ‘sex scenes” in the prior sentence, but it is a singular noun so the word "less" is correct.)

A Reference Book

The Only Grammar Book You'll Ever Need: A One-Stop Source for Every Writing Assignment
The Only Grammar Book You'll Ever Need: A One-Stop Source for Every Writing Assignment

Miss Grammers recommends keeping a reference book on hand for those times when you need help with grammar. This book is well-organized and answers your questions about English usage in easy-to-understand language. It is so complete that it truly is the only grammar book you will ever need.

 

An Example from Real Life

Miss Grammers was beginning to doubt whether or not anyone really needed her lesson about "fewer' and "less." Then Miss Grammers watched "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" on July 23, 2014, and she heard Mr. Stewart say, "It takes less money and less people." Miss Grammers was gratified to see that she was indeed needed.

You did notice that Mr. Stewart should have said "fewer people." "Less money " is correct because it is a collective noun referring to currencies in the aggregate, but if Mr. Stewart had said "dollars", he would be correct to say "fewer dollars."

Miss Grammers

Miss Grammers is watching you
Miss Grammers is watching you | Source

A Final Word

Miss Grammers hopes that she will see fewer instances of the incorrect use of “less” in the future.

And now Miss Grammers has a secret life to get back to.

As for you, you may stay after class and read some of my other posts. Check the related hubs below or just do a search for "The Naughty Grammarian."

Please take this little quiz to prove that you have learned when you must use use “fewer” and not “less.”


view quiz statistics

Note on the Quiz

Did you notice that the correct answer to the quiz was always the alternative with “fewer.”

Miss Grammers had to do it that way because had she tried to use “fewer" incorrectly, the wrongness would be immediately obvious. For example: A) She had fewer hope now. B) She had less hope now.

Miss Grammers is quite confident that no one would have picked “She had fewer hope now.” If Miss Grammers had made the first alternative: “She had fewer hopes now”–using the plural-- then both answers would be correct. It would not be nice for Miss Grammers to trick you by making both answers correct, and Miss Grammers always wishes to be nice.

Please give me your feedback.

Did the naughty grammarian help you learn something new?

See results

© 2014 Catherine Giordano

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    • CatherineGiordano profile image
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      Catherine Giordano 2 years ago from Orlando Florida

      I just read the Hub Pages weekly for 4/22/15. I'm so sorry, but HP needs to get the Hub-Pro editor on this. It is FEWER people and FEWER searches not "less." Fewer/less is my grammar pet peeve. Check out "The Naughty Grammarian: Is it Fewer or Less?" and avoid the wrath of The Naughty Grammarian.

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
      Author

      Catherine Giordano 2 years ago from Orlando Florida

      Thank you fpherj48 for letting me know how much you liked my hub about fewer and less. You may be one of the few people who instinctively gets this right. Thank you for your votes.

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 2 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      CG...I do appreciate your clear and accurate lesson on the use of these 2 terms. I'm going to have to say that I either knew this instinctively, which surprised me,or in repeating the sentence it was so clear to me which word was the correct one to use. Thank you so much....your teaching efforts are commendable....UP+++

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
      Author

      Catherine Giordano 2 years ago from Orlando Florida

      Lady Lorelei: Thanks for the idea for a new Grammar hub about the use of which and that. I think I misuse those words also, so I'll study the rules and report back.

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
      Author

      Catherine Giordano 2 years ago from Orlando Florida

      Kylyssa: I'm so sorry you were bullied like that. Making a grammar mistake does not mean someone is stupid. Sometimes grammar is stupid. It's just arbitrary rules, but it is nonetheless important to get it right or you look uneducated. It's like knowing the right fork to use.

    • Kylyssa profile image

      Kylyssa Shay 2 years ago from Overlooking a meadow near Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA

      The "R" word is retard. As a person with autism, I've had it used on me a lot despite my high IQ.

      Your piece is proof one need not resort to name-calling or shaming to improve grammar.

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
      Author

      Catherine Giordano 2 years ago from Orlando Florida

      Dressage: Is Miss Grammers a grandma? Interesting question. I don't think so. She is a "Miss" and not a "Mrs." I'm glad you found the lesson useful, interesting, and amusing. Miss Grammers always tries to please. Thanks for your comment.

    • Lady Lorelei profile image

      Lorelei Cohen 2 years ago from Canada

      Proper grammar is something sadly lacking in much of today's writing. I have to admit to having quite a few bad habits that I have also carried with me from the past. Which and that are two words that constantly confuse me.

    • Dressage Husband profile image

      Stephen J Parkin 2 years ago from Pine Grove, Nova Scotia, Canada

      I like the alliteration of grammar lessons by Ms Grammers , I wonder if she is also a Grandma? Then we could have fewer grammar errors and less incorrect grammar to deal with in the future. More Grammer police too! LOL interesting useful and funny (well amusing actually!).

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
      Author

      Catherine Giordano 2 years ago from Orlando Florida

      MD: Do a search for "The Naughty Grammarian." Then you can just select the ones that deal with the grammar questions that you have. Thanks for letting me know you found the grammar lesson useful and fun.

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
      Author

      Catherine Giordano 2 years ago from Orlando Florida

      Kylyssa:I'm so sorry people were insulting when they corrected your use of fewer/less? (I'm stumped: What is the "R" word?) I try to do the grammar lessons with a light touch and don't offer unsolicited corrections. Sometimes, it takes a great effort of will power not to refer them to the appropriate Naughty Grammarian hub.

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
      Author

      Catherine Giordano 2 years ago from Orlando Florida

      vocalcoach: Thanks for your comment. I'm glad you enjoyed the humor in my lesson. It is handy to have a grammar book on your desk. Please come back and use my amazon link if you decide to buy.

    • vocalcoach profile image

      Audrey Hunt 2 years ago from Nashville Tn.

      Thank you for this humorous presentation on when to use fewer or less. You really do make grammar fun! I'm thinking of buying the grammar book on amazon. It will be a handy reference as I work on my first non-fiction book.

    • MDavisatTIERS profile image

      Marilyn L Davis 2 years ago from Georgia

      Good evening, Catherine; coming back to Hub, I'm behind on my reading. I will definitely look up the other Ms. Grammars. Thank you for letting me know there are others. ~Marilyn

    • Kylyssa profile image

      Kylyssa Shay 2 years ago from Overlooking a meadow near Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA

      I misused "less" just once about five years ago. I'll never misuse it again. I'll never use that forum again, either, because those who corrected me were so unkind about it. The "R" word was used to describe me and my writing efforts.

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
      Author

      Catherine Giordano 2 years ago from Orlando Florida

      MD: There are already about 10 or so Naughty Grammarian hubs. This was one of the first, but since I wrote it when I was just beginning on HubPages, it didn't get much attention. I see the fewer/less mistake all the time on HubPages, and I hear it on TV all the time also. I'm glad you liked the humorous touch. Grammar can be boring. I try to make it fun. thanks for your comment.

    • MDavisatTIERS profile image

      Marilyn L Davis 2 years ago from Georgia

      Good afternoon, Catherine and Ms. Grammers; excellent information, as well as a humorous presentation. I think that grammar is vital to good writing, but too often we missed important lessons in school thinking the subject was uninteresting or tedious.

      Now, we are making up for that lack of knowledge. Articles like yours make grammar interesting and fun. I also like the insertion of the vocabulary words - nice touch.

      Thank you for writing this, and I see a monthly lesson in your future and ours. Grammar Topics from Ms. Grammar sounds like an excellent series, in my opinion. ~Marilyn