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Less vs Than

By Judy Vorfeld

Ever heard that it’s wrong to say, “Less than 50 peo­ple took part in the poll,” and that “Fewer” is the proper word? How can we tell which is right?

“Fewer” should be used with a plural noun that describes a group of indi­vid­ual items that can be counted. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary says to use “fewer” as it relates to a smaller num­ber of per­sons or things.

Regarding “less,” it says, “The tra­di­tional view is that less applies to mat­ters of degree, value, or amount,” but it doesn’t say you can’t use “less” with numbers.

Generally, use “less” with a sin­gu­lar noun that defines some­thing that can’t be bro­ken up into count­able parts.

Other sources say: use “fewer” for things you count (indi­vid­u­ally), and “less” for things you measure.

Incorrect: Less than 25 peo­ple attended the event.
Correct: Fewer than 25 peo­ple attended the event.

Incorrect: The bill will be lower if we use fewer water.
Correct: The bill will be lower if we use less water.

“less” vs “fewer” by Mark Israel

Scriptorium says: Use fewer when refer­ring to spe­cific num­bers and mea­sure­ments, and use less when refer­ring to gen­eral amounts.

a. If a cus­tomer orders fewer than 10 CDs but more than five, the cus­tomer receives a free CD. NOT: If a cus­tomer orders less than 10 CDs …

b. It takes less time to fill orders when your com­pany uses our application


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