Fewer vs. less – the two words have distinct meanings and are used in different contexts in the world of grammar. As researchers and PhD students, it becomes important therefore to understand the subtle differences between these words to make sure your message is conveyed correctly to your readers. Let’s look at some explanations to help you understand the nuances of fewer vs. Less . So, dive in and read on!
Less vs. fewer: A comparison
Less is an adjective meaning “a small amount.” It only applies to mass nouns that cannot be physically counted. Similar to less, the word fewer also means “a small amount,” but only applies to plural nouns that can be physically counted.
When to use less vs. fewer
Use fewer when you intend to describe a plural, countable noun, such as “fewer stones” or “fewer boys.” Use less when you want to describe a singular, uncountable noun, such as “less salt” or “less water”. So, whenever you’re confused about the use of less or fewer, check if the noun you are referring to is countable or uncountable, and your confusion should come to rest.
- Due to the soaring petrol prices, there will be fewer vehicles on the road in the future.
In the sentence above, ‘vehicles’ is a countable plural noun, so we have used fewer to describe the number of vehicles on the road.
- The goal of this research is to have less acid rain on the Earth by 2027.
In the sentence above, because ‘rain’ cannot be counted, we have used less to describe the amount of rain being discussed.
Fewer vs less examples
Here are some examples to help you understand the right usage of fewer vs. less.
- Fewer people attended the concert this year compared to last year.
- I have fewer friends than my sister does.
- We need to use fewer plastic bags to reduce pollution.
- I have less money in my bank account than I thought.
- We need to use less water to conserve resources.
Here are also some examples for the usage of fewer than vs less than.
- The employment rate in 2007 was less than it was in 2010.
- I have fewer than 5 books left to read.
Fewer vs. less: Some exceptions
When it comes to using less vs. fewer, it is important to consider whether the noun being referenced is countable or not. With money, time, and weight, it is common to use less instead of fewer even though these nouns can be counted.
Usage of fewer vs. less with money
Money, although it is countable, is taken as a bulk quantity rather than an aggregate of currency units. Therefore, we use less rather than fewer. For example,
- Rita has less than twenty pounds left in her savings account.
Usage of fewer vs. less with time
Remember to use less whenever you mention time, even though you can count time in seconds and minutes. For example,
- Ethan has been working on his thesis for a little less than a five months.
Quick Note: Depending on how general or specific your reference to time is, it may require the use of fewer sometimes. For example,
- I wish I could spend fewer hours on my job and devote more time to my son.
Usage of fewer vs. less with weight
Weights are also measurable, but we use less rather than fewer when referring to them. For example,
- The child weighed less than 200 grams at birth.
Usage of fewer vs. less with percentages
This is a tricky section. To decide whether to use fewer or less with a percentage, you will have to ask yourself, “What is this a percentage of? Is that object countable?”. For example,
- Fewer than nine percent of the world’s population has blue eyes.
Since we’re talking about the population here which is countable, we use the word fewer.
- I see you have eaten less than five percent of your porridge.
Here, it would not be possible for the speaker to enumerate the uneaten percentage of porridge. Therefore, we use the word less.
Fewer than ten percent of the people are able to get the usage of fewer vs. less right. But if you are careful and read this article properly, there are less than 5% chances of you making such mistakes in your paper.