As if words that sound the same in the English language aren’t confusing enough, there are certain words which mean similar things, but which have a very specific set of rules associated with when and how they are to be used. Less and fewer are two of these words. While they both mean a decreased number of something, if you have been using the two words interchangeably up until now, you may be surprised to learn that there are some important differences between the two words.
This word is used when you are referring to people or things in the plural, such as parents, children, cats, or trees. For example:
“There were fewer parents in attendance at the meeting than expected.”
“The shelter accepts fewer cats than dogs.”
Alternatively, less is the correct term to use when you are referring to something that doesn’t have a plural or can’t be numerically counted. This includes things such as time, music, and weather. For example:
“There was less snow than they predicted last night.”
“People want to spend less time in traffic jams.”
Usage – Less vs Fewer
If you are confused about the difference and still not sure when to use each one, you can think of fewer as the comparative form of few, like a “few things,” or a “few people.” In other words, if you are talking about a small number, or a decreasing number, this is when the term fewer is appropriate.
When it comes to using less, this is generally used to refer to a smaller amount, not as much, or a decreased value of something. This is applicable for things such as time or money where the amount of time or the amount of money decreases. Likewise, if there is a decreased amount of something that typically accumulates – such as rain or traffic – this is also when you would use less.
While there are always exceptions to the rules of course, as a general guide, if you stick to these recommendations when it comes to choosing between less vs fewer, you will be less likely to make a mistake, annoying fewer people in the process!
Was this post helpful? Make sure to check out our other articles on Language and Grammar.