Fewer or Less? (The Difference)

by Craig Shrives
The Quick Answer
Use less when referring to a single item.
Use fewer when referring to more than one item.

Click on the Two Correct Sentences
(Interactive Game)

Getting ready...
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Fewer or 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).

Examples:
  • 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.

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Many people consider the fewer/less ruling outdated.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.

Interactive Exercise
Here are three randomly selected questions from a larger exercise, which can be edited, printed to create an exercise worksheet, or sent via email to friends or students.

See Also

adverse or averse? affect or effect? appraise or apprise? 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