Fewer or less


Someone asked me about this earlier, but it became lost in my list of things-to-look-up.

To be honest, I usually try them both out and decide which sounds best, but that’s how I’ve been choosing words for years (when writing. When speaking I just come out with the first thing that comes…)

But I don’t always get it right. So I’ve looked it up to see if there is any instinctive logic behind my wild guesswork.

Grammarly suggests it is easy to confuse less and fewer because they both represent the opposite of the adjective more. The word more is used to describe both a greater number (more bottles) and a greater amount (more alcohol).

But to describe the opposite, we use different words. Deciding on whether to use less or fewer means deciding whether what you want to describe is countable (fewer bottles) or uncountable (less alcohol).

Uncountable nouns are always singular, so a good way to test that a noun is truly uncountable is to try making a plural out of it. (Less alcohols?)

Merriam-Webster also tells us to use, fewer when the number of things is counted (fewer days) and less when the number is measured (less time). It also tells us that, like many rules, this one is sometimes breakable. It is OK to say “30 days or less,” or “3 bottles or less,” (although fewer works here too, but is less common – see what I did there?) This especially happens with money (less than £10) and distance (less than two miles).

Grammar.com also has useful examples and the Cambridge Dictionary website give us…

Less and fewer with of

When we use fewer or less before articles (a/an, the), demonstratives (this, that), possessives (my, your) or pronouns (him, them), we need to use of. We use less of with singular nouns and fewer of with plural nouns:

It was funny to begin with, but as time went on, it became less of a joke.

In ten years’ time, more and more people will be demanding information twenty-four hours a day, from all parts of the world. Fewer of them will be getting that information from newspapers which arrive hours after the news has occurred.

Less and fewer without a noun

We can leave out the noun when it is obvious:

Every year in Britain about 5,000 people die on the roads. Fewer are killed at work. (fewer people)


I’ll stop there, before it gets more complicated. Maybe I’ll carry on using whichever sounds right…?


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What words do you find confusing to use correctly?

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10 thoughts on “Fewer or less

    1. ‘Then’ is a word I try to avoid altogether, but yes… affect and effect is a good one. And there’s another a/e combination hovering at the edge of my mind that won’t come forward.
      ‘Try and’ instead of ‘try to’ is one I’ve just caught myself using as well. Thanks for the nudges!

      Liked by 1 person

        1. I suppose you could go the verbose route…”A greater amount of cake’ or ‘A greater number of passengers ‘ (although that doesn’t work with your sentence). That also gives a clue whether to use fewer or less for the opposite.


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