Knowing the difference between fewer and less
English is a complex language and there is often confusion between words that seemingly have the same meaning but are particular in their usage. Such is the case with the words fewer and less.
It’s tempting to be lazy about these words.
You might be happy to say, ‘There are less clouds in the sky today’, and most people would know exactly what you meant. But to be technical about it, the correct statement is, ‘There are fewer clouds in the sky today.’
If I say, I have lost less weight this month than last month, the statement is correct. But if I want to talk about the number of kilograms I have dropped, I would say, ‘I have lost fewer kilograms this month than last month.
So what’s the difference? A body or mass of materials is spoken of as less. There is less water in the swimming pool than there was before the rainy season.
But it is correct to say, I have drunk seven cups of water, two cups fewer than yesterday.
Fewer is used in instances where items can be counted as singular units, i.e. in the discussion, clouds, cups, kilograms. Less is used where quantities cannot be broken down into units.
Less is used with abstract nouns such as sunshine, rain, thunder etc.
Here’s an exercise for practice. Fill in fewer or less.
- Jane’s wardrobe has _______ clothing in summer than in winter.
- Peter has ___________ dogs than his best friend.
- Mary wears ___________ perfume on week days.
- There is _____________ heat in the mild curry.
- Tea is _____________ expenses than coffee.
- There are ___________ dollars left after a shopping spree.
- How can there be______ money in my account after I paid a deposit?
- There are much___________ pieces of paper in that draft document.