Professional Style

Fewer vs. Less

October 2017
Spot the Error

Comparing playlists, Vera had less songs than Jonathan.

I’m guessing that, to determine who had the longer playlist, someone counted the songs. When something can be counted, the comparison word is fewer

There were considerably fewer people at the inauguration than originally claimed.

If something cannot be counted, use less.

Russell had less milk in his glass than Emily had in hers.

There is, however, an “exception” to the less/fewer rule. Sometimes we use numbers (countable) even though we’re talking about quantity (not countable). Examples:

  • It’s impossible to support a family when you make less than $10 an hour. (The “$10” refers to a level of income, not individual bills.)
  • We had less than three miles to go when we got a flat tire. (“Three miles” refers to a single span of distance, not individual miles.)
  • Most of the furniture in the room was no less than 100 years old. (Again, the “hundred years” refers to a period of time, not individual years.)


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