Fewer vs Less – Should you be using ‘less’ or ‘fewer’?

Jul 24, 2019English Grammar Tips, Smart Brains Spotlight

Fewer vs Less – Should you be using ‘less’ or ‘fewer’?

Fewer vs Less – Should you be using ‘less’ or ‘fewer’

Hans Adler

Fewer vs Less – Should you be using ‘less’ or ‘fewer’

Fewer vs Less - Should you be using 'less' or 'fewer' Smart Brains Spotlight


 

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Fewer vs Less – Should you be using ‘less’ or ‘fewer’

Fewer vs Less - Should you be using 'less' or 'fewer'? The topic for today is “Is “fewer” being replaced by “less” in the English language?”   Learning should be for life. Every moment of every day we are being presented with new and important lessons. Here we will present you one handpicked new and important lesson every day from smart brains and experts around the world.

 

Let Hans Adler explained to you why as a result of this radicalisation, some people are now beginning to use fewer even in strictly uncountable cases such as when talking about lengths or other continuous measurements, provided that numbers are involved.

 

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Fewer vs Less – Should you be using ‘less’ or ‘fewer’?

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Fewer vs Less - Should you be using 'less' or 'fewer'?

Fewer vs Less – Should you be using ‘less’ or ‘fewer’? | Thanks, Hans Adler.

 

 

Fewer vs Less – Should you be using ‘less’ or ‘fewer’?

Fewer vs Less – Should you be using ‘less’ or ‘fewer’?

Hans Adler

Fewer vs Less – Should you be using ‘less’ or ‘fewer’?

How can I become fluent in English?

 

 

Real Vocabulary: less or fewer?

 

Thank you, youtune – Macmillan Education ELT..
Fewer vs Less – Should you be using ‘less’ or ‘fewer’

Fewer vs Less – Should you be using ‘less’ or ‘fewer’?

 

Answer by Hans Adler, All credit goes to Hans Adler, Thank you!

Fewer vs Less – Should you be using ‘less’ or ‘fewer’

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Fewer vs Less – Should you be using ‘less’ or ‘fewer’

Fewer vs Less - Should you be using 'less' or 'fewer' QUESTION: Is “fewer” being replaced by “less” in the English language?

 

 

It actually goes the other way round. The following irregularity of English is a relatively recent development:

  • more is the opposite of less
  • more is the opposite of fewer

 

At some point, English speakers started to (occasionally) say fewer instead of lesswhen talking about something countable. This makes sense as a regular comparative derived from few replacing the normal irregular one, which is less. However, initially it must have sounded a bit odd to people:

  • much is the opposite of little [in the sense of small amount]
  • many is the opposite of few.

 

As you can see, few is the only one of the four candidates that got such a regular comparative. In particular the first three of the following four examples are just wrong:

  1. “Can I have mucher water please?”
  2. “You have given me littler water than I hoped.”
  3. “I have manier friends than you do.”
  4. “Only 5 items or fewer.”

 

German is generally more conservative than English. As a native German speaker who learned English primarily by reading old books, I cringe when I read example 4 almost as much as you probably cringe when reading examples 1–3.

 

The fact that more is ‘ambiguous’ without it being a problem at all shows that the supposed ambiguity of ‘less’ when allowed to be used for countable nouns cannot be a problem, either. Yet prescriptive English grammar advice generally insists that one should always prefer fewer when it can be used.

 

Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage thankfully researched this conundrum and found out what is going on. Even more thankfully, the result of this research is now available not just in this large dictionary, but also free in the online article ‘Fewer’ and ‘Less’. Here is the most relevant passage:

 

“This isn’t an example of how modern English is going to the dogs. Less has been used this way for well over a thousand years—nearly as long as there’s been a written English language. But for more than 200 years almost every usage writer and English teacher has declared such use to be wrong. The received rule seems to have originated with the critic Robert Baker, who expressed it not as a law but as a matter of personal preference. Somewhere along the way—it’s not clear how—his preference was generalized and elevated to an absolute, inviolable rule.”

 

Since the rule is an entirely made up attempt to change the English language, it is not particularly successful. As usual for such made up rules (unfortunately there are many), this has resulted in radicalisation of the proponents of the rule. It now serves very much as a shibboleth for erudition, used as such by the half-witted and half-educated. (The properly educated are of course familiar with centuries of English literature written by the best authors, in which less is typically preferred over fewer even for countable nouns.)

 

As a result of this radicalisation, some people are now beginning to use fewer even in strictly uncountable cases such as when talking about lengths or other continuous measurements, provided that numbers are involved:

  • “The distance is five miles or fewer.”

 

Apparently, the distance can be one, two, three, four or five miles exactly, but not, e.g., 4.38153 miles. Only that in reality it always turns out that in fact, five miles or less was meant. A measurement was meant, not a counting of miles.

 

The next step, even worse, can also occasionally be seen already:

  • “The distance is five and a half miles or fewer.”

 

I haven’t seen the following escalation yet, but I am sure some people are already doing this:

  • “The distance is 4.67 miles or fewer.”

 

I hope that I won’t have to see the day when the following will be normal:

  • “An imperial pint is a bit more than half a litre; a US liquid pint is a bit fewer than half a litre.”

 

It’s bad enough that fewer scruples is already more popular than less scruples. WTF? Who counts his or her scruples? Can someone who has only one scruple less than someone else be called less scrupulous? I would argue that no, it’s in the measuring error range.

Fewer vs Less – Should you be using ‘less’ or ‘fewer’?

How to write a great successful college application essay Reference:  Hans Adler.  “How do I learn English grammar from the basics?” originally appeared on Quora, the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.
Fewer vs Less – Should you be using ‘less’ or ‘fewer’?

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Fewer vs Less – Should you be using ‘less’ or ‘fewer’?

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