Confused About “Fewer” and “Less”?

The words “fewer” and “less” are both used to indicate smaller quantities. We generally use them when we are comparing the amount of something to the amount of something else. We might also be comparing an amount with one that existed in another period of time.

Because “fewer” and “less” have similar meanings and are used in similar contexts, it is easy to get them mixed up. This happens to native English speakers as well as to non-native speakers. But although “fewer” and “less” are similar, they are not exactly the same. Let’s look at both words and learn how you can keep them straight.

When to use “fewer”

“Fewer” is a word that means “not as many”. We use it with plural nouns such as pumpkins, laptops, supervisors, books, restaurants, movies, and turtles. What if the plural noun is one that doesn’t end in “s”, such as “sheep” or “children” or “fish”? We still use “fewer”.

Let’s look at some example sentences to make all of this clearer:

We have fewer green apples than red apples.

The park near my parents’ house has fewer trees now.

I would rather send Sophia to my church’s daycare center because they have fewer children than the other daycare centers in the neighborhood.

I am hoping to see fewer cars on the streets once the city improves its public transit program.

Fewer vinyl records were sold in the 1990s compared to the 1980s.

When to use “less”

We use “less” with uncountable nouns. These are nouns that cannot be pluralized because they cannot be separated or counted. For example, we can’t separate or count “dust” or “smoke” or “rain”. Uncountable nouns are often the names of concepts, such as “advice” or “progress” or “information”.

Here are some sentences using uncountable nouns with “less”:

Because of the drought, there is less water in the creek this summer.

Grandpa has less strength than he did before his heart attack.

We just got a king size bed, so there is less space for everything else in that room.

The children have been drinking less soda and more fruit juice lately.

I have been working fewer hours, so I have less money coming in every month.

Let’s look at that last sentence again. “Fewer” is used with “hours” because “hours” is a noun that can be counted. But money can be counted too, right? So why is it “less money” and not “fewer money”?

Note that “money” is not pluralized. Yes, you can count your money, but what happens when you do? You don’t say, “I have 350 moneys”. Instead, you say you have 350 dollars, pounds, pesos, won, Euros, rupees, or whatever particular currency you are using. Forms of currency can be both counted and pluralized. Thus, you would use “fewer” with dollars, pounds, pesos, etc., but “less” with “money”.

Are you still not sure about whether “few” or “less” is correct for the context of your email or essay? Click the blue box below, and one of our TextRanch editors will help you figure it out.

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