Fewer or Less? (The Difference)

Our Story


Fewer or Less?

When should I use "fewer" and "less"?
  • Use "less" when referring to a single item. For example:
    • less money
    • less cheese
    • less haste
  • Use "fewer" when referring to more than one item. For example:
    • fewer coins
    • fewer pieces of cheese
    • fewer rats
less or fewer?

A Video Summary

Here is a 1-minute video summarizing this lesson on "fewer" and "less":

Click on the Two Correct Sentences
(Interactive Game)

Getting ready...
Getting ready...
Getting ready...
Getting ready...
Getting ready...
Getting ready...
Getting ready...
Getting ready...
Getting ready...
Getting ready...

More about "Fewer" and "Less"

Writers often misuse the words "less" and "fewer." The word "less" should be used for a single item (e.g., less time, less space). The word "fewer" should be used when there is more than one item (e.g., fewer mice, fewer omissions).

These rules mean that "less" is always used with non-countable nouns (as they can't be pluralized), and "fewer" is always used with countable nouns.

There is a quirk, however. The term "less than" is used with numbers before times and measurements, e.g., less than four miles. There's more on this below.

Example Sentences with "Fewer" and "Less"

  • There is less cheese on this plate.
  • (The word "cheese" is singular.)
  • There are fewer pieces of cheese on this plate.
  • (The word "pieces" is plural.)
  • There are less pigeons in Trafalgar Square than there used to be.
  • (should be "fewer pigeons")
  • In the future, there will be less coins in circulation.
  • (should be "fewer coins")
  • Fewer people will vote in the forthcoming elections.

"Less Than" with Times and Measurements

Use "less than" (as opposed to "fewer than") with numbers used with times and measurements. For example:
  • Unemployed? You can get a great job in less than three months. How? Learn to program. (Author Tucker Max)
  • Butterflies cannot fly if their body temperature is less than 86 degrees.
It has to be said that these rules are blurring. Few people would challenge "less" being used with a number that doesn't quantify a date or a measurement. For now though, especially in written work, stick to the rules.

Common Terms with "Fewer" and "Less"

Here are some common terms with "fewer" and "less":

  • fewer people
  • fewer miles
  • fewer hours
  • fewer calories
  • less staff
  • less time
  • less haste

Adopt the Fewer/Less Ruling

Many people consider the fewer/less ruling outdated. It is certainly not well observed by some large reputable companies. For example:

less bags (fewer bags )
(Wall*Mart poster)

less napkins (fewer napkins )
(Starbucks napkin)

less emissions (fewer emissions )
(Volvo advert)

Grammar Monster advises that you play it safe and adopt the ruling. Using "less" incorrectly may irk your readers. Using "fewer" correctly will showcase your grammar skills.

Ready for the Test?
Here is a confirmatory test for this lesson.

This test can also be:
  • Edited (i.e., you can delete questions and play with the order of the questions).
  • Printed to create a handout.
  • Sent electronically to friends or students.

See Also

adverse or averse? affect or effect? Ms., Miss, or Mrs? avenge or revenge? bare or bear? complement or compliment? dependant or dependent? discreet or discrete? disinterested or uninterested? e.g. or i.e.? envy or jealousy? imply or infer? its or it's? material or materiel? poisonous or venomous? practice or practise? principal or principle? tenant or tenet? who's or whose? Are collective nouns singular or plural? Singular or plural verbs after prepositional phrases (e.g. a box of tapes) List of easily confused words