Less or Fewer?


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Thread: Less or Fewer?

  1. #1

    Less or Fewer?

    I know we've had this discussion before, but I guess I need a booster!

    I just heard a medical professional on TV say "If you have the antibodies, you can still get Covid 19, but you will have less symptoms." or

    "There are less cars on the road . . ." or

    "Less people showed up . . ."

    I immediately verbalized "fewer," correcting the physician, who is way more educated than me. "The word is fewer," I say aloud, with emphasis.

    But I have heard this so many times that I am beginning to wonder if I am wrong. And to tell the truth, I can't remember what the rule of thumb is. Anyone?
    When the night has come
    And the land is dark
    And the moon is the only light we'll see
    I won't be afraid, no I won't be afraid
    Just as long as you stand by me.


  2. #2
    Click image for larger version. 

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    "He's done more damage with a pen than others have with a pistol."
    Re: Federico García Lorca

  3. #3
    The Chicago Manual of Style advises that "less" should used with singular nouns ("less water", "less wealth", etc), and "fewer" should be used with plural nouns ("fewer dollars", "fewer cars", etc).

    So, since "symptoms" are plural, the correct wording would've been, indeed: "fewer symptoms".

    Sue: 1 point
    TV Health Professional: 0 points


  4. #4
    To be fair, medical professionals don't have to spend much time studying the English language. One time, my eye doctor and I were talking about music and she said to me, "I seen The Stones in concert five times." I cringed so hard I may have broken my face.
    "A word after a word after a word is power."
    -Margaret Atwood

  5. #5
    I do know that unless you are a wordsmith, there's a good chance a lot of those "seens" will pop up, even in the most unlikely places! LOL. And I would have the same reaction.
    When the night has come
    And the land is dark
    And the moon is the only light we'll see
    I won't be afraid, no I won't be afraid
    Just as long as you stand by me.


  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by SueC View Post
    I know we've had this discussion before, but I guess I need a booster!

    I just heard a medical professional on TV say "If you have the antibodies, you can still get Covid 19, but you will have less symptoms." or

    "There are less cars on the road . . ." or

    "Less people showed up . . ."

    I immediately verbalized "fewer," correcting the physician, who is way more educated than me. "The word is fewer," I say aloud, with emphasis.

    But I have heard this so many times that I am beginning to wonder if I am wrong. And to tell the truth, I can't remember what the rule of thumb is. Anyone?
    In the instances you quote, you're right, because they refer to nouns. I wouldn't be surprised if less eventually usurps fewer - it seems to be on its way already.

    Looking into it, the opposite end seems to rely more heavily on 'more'. More applies to nouns and 'greater' only gets a look in if we say 'a greater number of' or similar. Without going into it too deeply, it looks like more is given a wider use than less in formal English i.e. less can be the opposite of more, and fewer can also be its opposite too. Perhaps that goes some way to explaining the frequent misuse of less.

    EDIT: Some humour for you "The Pedants' Revolt" link only supplied in case picture is copyrighted.

    The Pedants' Revolt


  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by Phil Istine View Post
    In the instances you quote, you're right, because they refer to nouns. I wouldn't be surprised if less eventually usurps fewer - it seems to be on its way already.

    Looking into it, the opposite end seems to rely more heavily on 'more'. More applies to nouns and 'greater' only gets a look in if we say 'a greater number of' or similar. Without going into it too deeply, it looks like more is given a wider use than less in formal English i.e. less can be the opposite of more, and fewer can also be its opposite too. Perhaps that goes some way to explaining the frequent misuse of less.

    EDIT: Some humour for you "The Pedants' Revolt" link only supplied in case picture is copyrighted.

    The Pedants' Revolt
    I loved the Pendants' Revolt - OMG, that's just how I feel. Thanks for the post and info, Phil.
    When the night has come
    And the land is dark
    And the moon is the only light we'll see
    I won't be afraid, no I won't be afraid
    Just as long as you stand by me.


  8. #8
    This is a distinction of which I was unaware until I began submitting compositions for critique online. That includes a number of college writing classes. Maybe I just lucked out. What interests me is whether anyone has ever misunderstood a statement because it contained this grammar error? Perhaps this is a rule without practical effect?
    A conclusion is the place where you got tired of thinking. Steven Wright

  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by ppsage View Post
    This is a distinction of which I was unaware until I began submitting compositions for critique online. That includes a number of college writing classes. Maybe I just lucked out. What interests me is whether anyone has ever misunderstood a statement because it contained this grammar error? Perhaps this is a rule without practical effect?
    It could be ambiguous if the usage of 'less' as in quality conflicts with 'less' as in quantity.

    "There were less good restaurants on the way to the city"

    Less good restaurants...as in there were lots of restaurants that were less good? Or a smaller quantity of good restaurants?

  10. #10
    If you can count them: pebbles, people, clouds, days, microbes ... it’s fewer. If you can’t count it: air, water, sunlight, time, faith, anger... it’s less.

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