“Fewer” and “less” are both comparative adjectives that are used to express the opposite of more.
Grammatically speaking, the two cannot be used interchangeably (though they often are).
So what exactly is the difference? In short, fewer and less are each used for different kinds of nouns—those that are countable, and those that are uncountable.
Read on for more on the difference and to see examples of when to use fewer and when to use less.
The Meaning of “Fewer”
Fewer is used to refer to quantities of things that can be counted. It’s another way of expressing “not as much.”
If a noun can be counted—for example, 3 kisses, 5 cookies, or 2 dogs—you should use fewer when making comparisons.
For Example: I should eat fewer cookies if I want to get back in shape.
What is a Countable Noun?
Countable nouns are nouns that can be counted without adding other modifiers.
For example, in the sentence “I have 3 dogs,” “dog” is a countable noun, because I can easily describe its quantity with numbers.
More examples of countable nouns:
However, some nouns cannot be counted—at least not without adding other words to support them.
For example: I drank 2 glasses of wine last night.
I normally wouldn’t say, “I drank 2 wines last night;” glasses of must accompany wine if I want to be specific about quantities.
If I want to speak more generally, I can leave wine—an uncountable noun—as it is, and use “less” instead.
For example: I drank less wine than Sheila did last night.
“Fewer” in a Sentence
Below are several examples of “fewer” in a sentence:
- I am working fewer hours this month compared with last month.
- You need to drive fewer miles to reach Orange County than Los Angeles.
- I have fewer responsibilities in this new position.
- Fewer than 10 trees were planted last year.
- There are fewer cars parked outside today compared with yesterday.
- Try to make fewer mistakes in your writing.
- He should drink fewer milkshakes.
- I am taking fewer courses this semester than last semester.
Meaning of “Less”
“Less” is used to describe nouns that are uncountable. These kinds of nouns are almost always singular.
Examples of uncountable nouns:
- Ice cream
In some cases, you could make the examples above plural (such as “fine wines” or “different foods“), but if you want to say that the quantity of these things was smaller in number, less should be used.
“Less” in a Sentence
Below are several examples of “less” in a sentence:
- Eat less meat if you want to stay healthy.
- Consume less caffeine if you want to avoid headaches.
- There’s less work to do today than yesterday.
- Next time, put less salt in the sauce.
- I make less money than he does.
- He can do the work in less time than his brother.
- Because it hasn’t rained all year, there is less water in the lake.
- At least her room is full of less junk now that she finally cleaned her room.
Fewer Than or Less Than?
In general, the same rules of fewer and less apply to fewer than and less than.
However, there are a few exceptions. The following nouns, although technically countable, take less than:
- Dollar amounts. Example: Stacy has less than $20 remaining.
- Measures of time. Example: Mark has worked here for less than 5 years.
- Measures of weight: Amy currently weighs less than 120 pounds.
Fewer vs Less Quiz
Test your knowledge of the difference between fewer and less by taking the quiz below:
1. I have _______________ followers on Instagram than my sister.
2. If I made _________________ errors maybe I would get a raise.
3. My doctor recommended that I consume _______________ salt.
4. I wish I could spend ____________ time in traffic every morning.
5. She’s been sleeping _____________ hours since the baby was born.
6. I’ve been consuming _____________ calories and already lost 5 pounds.
7. My baby weighed ____________ than 6 pounds when she was born.
8. You have finished _____________ than 10% of your book.
Print and download our Fewer vs Less Quiz with answers.
The Difference Between Fewer and Less
By learning the difference between fewer and less, you’ll avoid a common grammatical error while making your writing more smooth and effective.
Learn more about the most common grammar mistakes so you’ll know what to avoid and how to improve your writing.
Did you find this post helpful? Let us know in the comments!
If you enjoyed this post, then you might also like:
- Which or That? Grammar Explained
- The Most Important Basic Grammar Rules to Know
- Et Al. and Etc.—Whose is Which?
- The 10 Most Common Grammar Mistakes and How to Avoid Them
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