Fewer vs Less

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Can we settle this? Have a global outreach program of some kind?

"I went to the trendy pizzeria again last night. There were less people there than last time." NO

"I went to the trendy pizzeria again last night. There were fewer people there than last time." YES

calstars, Monday, 19 December 2016 20:58 (four years ago) link

persons*

k3vin k., Monday, 19 December 2016 20:58 (four years ago) link

enumerable -> fewer
unenumerable -> less

i don't have a good mnemonic for it

ciderpress, Monday, 19 December 2016 20:59 (four years ago) link

Did you stop to think that maybe the speaker wished to express that the aggregate mass of the people present at the pizzeria was less than on the prior occasion?

a little too mature to be cute (Aimless), Monday, 19 December 2016 21:01 (four years ago) link

"I went to the trendy pizzeria again last night. There were less people there than last time."

"I went to the trendy pizzeria again last night. There were fewer people there than last time."

these mean the same thing

sleepingbag, Monday, 19 December 2016 21:02 (four years ago) link

ralph meant that he's really good at sleeping

, Monday, 19 December 2016 21:05 (four years ago) link

didn't know there was debate. I think of "less" for non-quantifiable things: less love, less strife, less certainty. I think of "fewer" for numbers: fewer marbles, fewer slices of pie, fewer options for appeasing boredom on the internet

Dominique, Monday, 19 December 2016 21:14 (four years ago) link

i have never thought about this before and i don't think i ever will again

marcos, Monday, 19 December 2016 21:29 (four years ago) link

ATTN: Copyeditors and Grammar Fiends

a little too mature to be cute (Aimless), Monday, 19 December 2016 21:33 (four years ago) link

obviously dominique describes precise usage. it becomes a matter of whether one cares (i do!)

k3vin k., Monday, 19 December 2016 21:41 (four years ago) link

i don't care

not throwing shade, there are lots of things on this level that i do care about, not grammar-wise obv but just life things, but with the awareness that it's all actually meaningless. no one's on the deathbed going "LESS!! LESS!!! at least in certain situations, i meaaaaaaan *croak*"

Karl Malone, Monday, 19 December 2016 21:44 (four years ago) link

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vRKU4-ZhHl8

Number None, Monday, 19 December 2016 21:46 (four years ago) link

i don't think any fewer of people who don't quite grasp the distinction

Rush Limbaugh and Lou Reed doing sex with your parents (bizarro gazzara), Monday, 19 December 2016 21:49 (four years ago) link

Stannis Baratheon to thread

xp lol

kinder, Monday, 19 December 2016 21:50 (four years ago) link

all of these are fine

don't take my kindness for wokeness (seandalai), Monday, 19 December 2016 21:52 (four years ago) link

It's "There WAS less people there" iirc.

Lauren Schumer Donor (Phil D.), Monday, 19 December 2016 22:03 (four years ago) link

It's less than 20 miles to London <---- explain that!

Camaraderie at Arms Length, Monday, 19 December 2016 22:12 (four years ago) link

You're in Slough?

kinder, Monday, 19 December 2016 22:19 (four years ago) link

'Less stuff, fewer things' is how I always remember it

Steve Reich In The Afternoon (Against The 80s), Monday, 19 December 2016 22:27 (four years ago) link

Although you can break the rules for time / money IMO ... 'I'm less than 30 minutes away' sounds better than 'I'm fewer than 30 minutes away' to me

Steve Reich In The Afternoon (Against The 80s), Monday, 19 December 2016 22:31 (four years ago) link

http://i66.tinypic.com/2qv4nrd.png

Number None, Monday, 19 December 2016 22:32 (four years ago) link

"Less is also used with numbers when they are on their own and with expressions of measurement or time, e.g.:

His weight fell from 18 stone to less than 12.

Their marriage lasted less than two years.

Heath Square is less than four miles away from Dublin city centre."

I am an ESL teacher and can't switch off from this stuff sometimes, sorry

Camaraderie at Arms Length, Monday, 19 December 2016 22:42 (four years ago) link

"I went to the trendy pizzeria again last night. There were less people there than last time."

"I went to the trendy pizzeria again last night. There were fewer people there than last time."

these mean the same thing

No, they don't. The first means that all the same people were in the pizzeria but they got smaller.

¶ (DJP), Monday, 19 December 2016 22:47 (four years ago) link

the distinction you're trying to make is that the those measurements are non-discrete. there are more measurements between 18 stone and 12 than only 13, 14, etc (there is 12.5, 16.3, etc). similarly years can be broken into months, days etc

xp

k3vin k., Monday, 19 December 2016 22:49 (four years ago) link

i don't correct ppls usage of this stuff IRL but i assume most people on this board have taken a college english course

k3vin k., Monday, 19 December 2016 22:50 (four years ago) link

xp - That's the logic behind it, yes.

Also, most people accept 'less' in place of 'fewer' these days, and if most people accept it as correct then it is correct and nothing we can do to change it, like it or not. So there is that too.

Camaraderie at Arms Length, Monday, 19 December 2016 22:53 (four years ago) link

all of these are fine

― don't take my kindness for wokeness (seandalai), Monday, December 19, 2016 4:52 PM (fifty-nine minutes ago)

for the lulz i agonized over whether to correct this to "all these are fine" but i actually think this may be correct. "these" is a pronoun here, right?

k3vin k., Monday, 19 December 2016 22:53 (four years ago) link

check the outrageous decimal/duodecimal privilege behind "the logic behind it". e.g

An Amazonian language with only 300 speakers has no word to express the concept of "one" or any other specific number, according to a new study from an MIT-led team.
The team, led by MIT professor of brain and cognitive sciences Edward Gibson, found that members of the Piraha tribe in remote northwestern Brazil use language to express relative quantities such as "some" and "more," but not precise numbers.

Dr Drudge (Bob Six), Monday, 19 December 2016 22:58 (four years ago) link

all of these are fine

― don't take my kindness for wokeness (seandalai), Monday, December 19, 2016 4:52 PM (fifty-nine minutes ago)

for the lulz i agonized over whether to correct this to "all these are fine" but i actually think this may be correct. "these" is a pronoun here, right?

― k3vin k., Monday, December 19, 2016 5:53 PM (six minutes ago) Bookmark Flag Post Permalink

"Please change to 'These are all fine'" -- Editor

Lauren Schumer Donor (Phil D.), Monday, 19 December 2016 23:01 (four years ago) link

As a linguistics person I know there's bullshit coming if I ever hear revolutionary findings about the Piraha. And bullshit comes every day it seems.

Camaraderie at Arms Length, Monday, 19 December 2016 23:10 (four years ago) link

It is my opinion that remote Amazonian tribes enjoy bullshitting western researchers, who make convenient butts for the jokes played on them. It livens up their day and gives everyone a good laugh for years to come.

a little too mature to be cute (Aimless), Tuesday, 20 December 2016 02:22 (four years ago) link

"I went to the trendy pizzeria again last night and I am Hitler." NO

"I went to the trendy pizzeria again last night and I love Hitler." YES

sleepingbag, Tuesday, 20 December 2016 02:28 (four years ago) link

http://i.imgur.com/w1fQUe2.jpg

pplains, Tuesday, 20 December 2016 02:34 (four years ago) link

"Shouldn't it be 'fewer'?"

"OH HELLO THERE, LORD GRAMMARIAN VON I-KNOW-EVERYTHING. WELCOME TO WALMART!"

pplains, Tuesday, 20 December 2016 02:35 (four years ago) link

http://i.imgur.com/MoFjf4i.jpg

memories of a cruller (unregistered), Tuesday, 20 December 2016 02:45 (four years ago) link

I notice most of the counter examples given so far, such as weight, time or distance can easily be conceived of as unitary entities and the units by which they are measured can be seen as purely arbitrary. Not that any of it is important, but it shows me that there's a hidden method to the choice of "less" when referring to units (ounces, inches, minutes) that are grammatically enumerable, but can also be thought of as chopping a unitary kind of 'stuff' into arbitrary bits by a kind of mental overlay that doesn't really exist.

The 'Hitler' example, above, is particularly interesting to me because it is quite dodgy, in that "useless ores" could refer either to the minerals or metals contained in the ore, or it could refer to the mass of raw material extracted directly from the mines, the rubble of undifferentiated rock. When Hitler responds "Mine less" it is ambiguous whether he is ordering a reduction of mining activity, i.e. extracting less ore from the mines, in which case "less" is correct. Or is he ordering a cessation of all mining for a particular set of "useless" minerals or metals? In which case, "fewer" is correct.

The original speaker says "too many", rather than "too much", which indicates the latter alternative, but one wonders why anyone would laboriously extract ore just to obtain useless metals or minerals?

a little too mature to be cute (Aimless), Tuesday, 20 December 2016 03:20 (four years ago) link

i like noodles

Neanderthal, Tuesday, 20 December 2016 04:40 (four years ago) link

aren't puppies cute!

a little too mature to be cute (Aimless), Tuesday, 20 December 2016 04:49 (four years ago) link

Insisting there's a logic behind it is a bit strange, considering the absurdities of:

Use less when you’re referring to something that can’t be counted or doesn’t have a plural (e.g. money, air, time, music, rain)

from the page already quoted by Camaraderie at Arms Length

Dr Drudge (Bob Six), Tuesday, 20 December 2016 09:05 (four years ago) link

& considering there is no equivalent for 'more', and we seem to get along fine.

the year of diving languorously (ledge), Tuesday, 20 December 2016 09:06 (four years ago) link

this drives me crazy, but i never correct ppl on it because it's hard to find a non-obnoxious way to do it

also gave up a while back on correcting ppl who say "i could care less"

(The Other) J.D. (J.D.), Tuesday, 20 December 2016 09:09 (four years ago) link

It's difficult not to be obnoxious when you're trying to enforce the oppressive cultural encoding of quantity!

Dr Drudge (Bob Six), Tuesday, 20 December 2016 09:17 (four years ago) link

If it can be counted as individual things (buttons, cars), it is fewer.

If it is measured as an amount of one thing (water, flour), then it's less.

Hey Bob (Scik Mouthy), Tuesday, 20 December 2016 11:12 (four years ago) link

What really annoys me though is people saying 'over' when they mean 'more than'. Over is a preposition, you fucking cretin.

Hey Bob (Scik Mouthy), Tuesday, 20 December 2016 11:13 (four years ago) link

i don't have a good mnemonic for it

FEWER PEAS, LESS CHEESE

mahb, Tuesday, 20 December 2016 11:32 (four years ago) link

Insisting there's a logic behind it is a bit strange, considering the absurdities of:

Use less when you’re referring to something that can’t be counted or doesn’t have a plural (e.g. money, air, time, music, rain)

from the page already quoted by Camaraderie at Arms Length

― Dr Drudge (Bob Six), Tuesday, December 20, 2016 4:05 AM (eight hours ago)

why is this absurd?

k3vin k., Tuesday, 20 December 2016 17:32 (four years ago) link

Because it's an rather arbitrary stylistic choice - there's no 'logic' behind it.

His weight fell from 18 stone to less than 12.

Are you really arguing that we use 'less' in this case because "there are more measurements between 18 stone and 12 than only 13, 14, etc (there is 12.5, 16.3, etc)"?

Dr Drudge (Bob Six), Tuesday, 20 December 2016 19:34 (four years ago) link

No, you use "less" because unless you're in an Ed Gein situation, one does not think of the units that make up "weight" as discrete objects.

¶ (DJP), Tuesday, 20 December 2016 19:42 (four years ago) link

this is one of those weird linguistic things i instinctively understand and always get right in writing but if i'm not paying attention nearly always get wrong in speech

lex pretend, Tuesday, 20 December 2016 19:54 (four years ago) link

* there is a logic behind every grammatical choice we make, might be a ridiculously convoluted logic, but there is one anyway.
* 'fewer' is slipping out of use, the only reason I teach it is because it's a standard thing on IELTS etc., and the sooner it's gone the better.

Camaraderie at Arms Length, Tuesday, 20 December 2016 21:04 (four years ago) link

Oh, and this was a good read re: piraha - http://www.3ammagazine.com/3am/tom-wolfes-reflections-language/

Camaraderie at Arms Length, Tuesday, 20 December 2016 21:05 (four years ago) link

This is one of those rules that serves no useful purpose and nobody has ever been misunderstood because they used "less" instead of "fewer", so even if I sometimes get bothered by this sort of thing (not this one specifically, but other similar things), I never point it out because I know that the problem is with me and not the person who said or wrote this.

silverfish, Tuesday, 20 December 2016 21:21 (four years ago) link

this discussion has moved on from what the precise usage is at this point, i think. everyone understands

k3vin k., Tuesday, 20 December 2016 21:35 (four years ago) link

is the pizzeria still trendy if not as much people are going there these days

estela, Tuesday, 20 December 2016 21:42 (four years ago) link

'nobody goes there anymore -- it's too crowded.'

-- bob marley

mookieproof, Tuesday, 20 December 2016 21:46 (four years ago) link

children in pizzerias is the probable culprit

estela, Tuesday, 20 December 2016 21:55 (four years ago) link

one of those cases where more is less, eh?

a little too mature to be cute (Aimless), Tuesday, 20 December 2016 22:08 (four years ago) link

What a great thread. Language is what makes us human.

it's the distortion, stupid! (alex in mainhattan), Tuesday, 20 December 2016 23:05 (four years ago) link

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Animal_language

Rock Wokeman (Noodle Vague), Tuesday, 20 December 2016 23:11 (four years ago) link

That article is a good read, and I like the image comparing the patterns of languages with the recursive patterns of the nautilus and the snowflake. Thinking about the aesthetic qualities of language tempers my negativity somewhat.

Dr Drudge (Bob Six), Wednesday, 21 December 2016 00:24 (four years ago) link

one year passes...

“more and more fewer”
ALMOST

calstars, Friday, 22 June 2018 21:18 (two years ago) link

two years pass...

So this just came up

The Ballad of Mel Cooley (James Redd and the Blecchs), Tuesday, 23 February 2021 00:08 (one week ago) link

usually worth ignoring, unless it's in a professional writing/editing capacity

Judge Roi Behan (Aimless), Tuesday, 23 February 2021 00:56 (one week ago) link

unfewer

scampsite (darraghmac), Tuesday, 23 February 2021 01:16 (one week ago) link

There's a site whose search function I use for work every day, which is set up to offer 'more options' or 'less options' and, well, it's been years now and I'm still not over it. It hurts me in my heart.

The Mandolinrainian (Old Lunch), Tuesday, 23 February 2021 01:22 (one week ago) link

enumerable -> fewer
unenumerable -> less

i don't have a good mnemonic for it

― ciderpress, Monday, December 19, 2016 3:59 PM

pomenitul, Tuesday, 23 February 2021 01:26 (one week ago) link

Proxy feul

scampsite (darraghmac), Tuesday, 23 February 2021 01:39 (one week ago) link

Every express lane ever: “10 Items or Less”
GAHHH

calstars, Tuesday, 23 February 2021 01:41 (one week ago) link

who cares, we don't have two words for 'more'.

ledge, Tuesday, 23 February 2021 08:49 (one week ago) link

caring about this is reactionary

Towards a Britain-Free Planet (Left), Tuesday, 23 February 2021 09:14 (one week ago) link

"well actually i think you'll find the true meaning of decimate is..." fuck off

Towards a Britain-Free Planet (Left), Tuesday, 23 February 2021 09:16 (one week ago) link

Ok you got me, i call

scampsite (darraghmac), Tuesday, 23 February 2021 09:21 (one week ago) link

nobody has ever been misunderstood because they used "less" instead of "fewer"
is why this rule only exists for nerds to get smug about and was probably invented by some victorian old fart with massive sideburns

Towards a Britain-Free Planet (Left), Tuesday, 23 February 2021 09:29 (one week ago) link

Try fewer

scampsite (darraghmac), Tuesday, 23 February 2021 09:30 (one week ago) link

Using less for fewer sounds okay: there were less people in the store today than yesterday.

Using fewer for less sounds terrible: I put fewer gas in the car today than yesterday.

I'm posting right now because I get fewer sleep since I retired.

clemenza, Tuesday, 23 February 2021 09:32 (one week ago) link

Use the fewer of two evils, clem?

scampsite (darraghmac), Tuesday, 23 February 2021 09:36 (one week ago) link

less makes sense there because people use it like that, fewer doesn't because people don't, but if they started doing so it would

Towards a Britain-Free Planet (Left), Tuesday, 23 February 2021 09:36 (one week ago) link

I guess that's true, but if enough people started using book when they meant apple, you'd get used to that too. It's not a big deal to me, and I'd certainly never correct anyone, but the distinction seems basic enough. It's one of those grammar things I actually enjoyed teaching to kids, because you could make them laugh through intentional misuse.

clemenza, Tuesday, 23 February 2021 09:47 (one week ago) link

This rule is great because some of you lads have a lot of energy to burn off

The Scampo Fell to Earth (Noodle Vague), Tuesday, 23 February 2021 10:01 (one week ago) link

Swear to god nv i deleted a post that said "are you burning calories at this or what"

scampsite (darraghmac), Tuesday, 23 February 2021 10:02 (one week ago) link

High five or fewer

The Scampo Fell to Earth (Noodle Vague), Tuesday, 23 February 2021 10:04 (one week ago) link

fewer is greater

buzza, Tuesday, 23 February 2021 10:14 (one week ago) link

The fewer of two evils.

pplains, Tuesday, 23 February 2021 11:42 (one week ago) link

Oh I see dmac already took that one.

Forgive me, I just had a less things to get off my chest.

pplains, Tuesday, 23 February 2021 11:44 (one week ago) link

i could really care fewer

Towards a Britain-Free Planet (Left), Tuesday, 23 February 2021 11:51 (one week ago) link

Everything is fewer than zero, hey!

The Ballad of Mel Cooley (James Redd and the Blecchs), Tuesday, 23 February 2021 13:38 (one week ago) link

Fewer, less, what does it really matter, I try not to let it bother me that many

The Mandolinrainian (Old Lunch), Tuesday, 23 February 2021 13:41 (one week ago) link

I know it's not a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but this is one I do notice. "12 items or less" sounds just as jarring to me as "How much items do you have?"

Lily Dale, Tuesday, 23 February 2021 14:30 (one week ago) link

Pardon me, sir, I believe you mean to say 'how much items does you have'.

The Mandolinrainian (Old Lunch), Tuesday, 23 February 2021 14:36 (one week ago) link

OMG, that appears to be more of a thing than I ever would've thought

'how much items do' - About 2,340 results (0.41 seconds)

The Mandolinrainian (Old Lunch), Tuesday, 23 February 2021 14:38 (one week ago) link

there's so much less examples of "x or fewer" around that i would find that jarring. it's weird people feel strongly about this. usages that are common and understood within the language aren't wrong, irregardless of what people were taught

Towards a Britain-Free Planet (Left), Tuesday, 23 February 2021 14:49 (one week ago) link

If you didn't see it, the last post on the second-thoughts thread, pertaining to this one, is pretty great.

clemenza, Tuesday, 23 February 2021 15:08 (one week ago) link


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