Monday, March 30, 2015

Minimalist Grammar Rant - Less vs. Fewer

I'll admit that I'm a little bit of a grammar Nazi. I was an English major in college and it's still with me. So when I read blogs talking about our need for "less things" it's a bit like fingernails on a chalkboard for me. Ok, here's the difference.

When using the words "less" and "fewer," we have to be aware of whether we're talking about quantities or measures. Quantities can be counted, while measures have to be... well, measured. You can count towels, shirts, and plates, but you can't count laundry, clutter, noise, etc. You use "fewer" to describe things you can count - fewer shirts, fewer plates, etc - and less to describe things you have to measure - less clutter, less noise, less space.

I just described the traditional "counting" rule. Maybe an easier way to think of it is to say "fewer" for plurals, and say "less" for singles. Examples: fewer appleS, less fruit (no plural); fewer shirtS, less clothes (no plural, despite ending with an s); fewer thingS, less stuff.

Ok! Now go forth and tastefully, not ostentatiously, use good grammar in a way that doesn't make you sound like the middle school grammar teacher that every hated!

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