Fewer and less can be confusing in English, even for native speakers. The British supermarket chain Tesco recently got into trouble for using “less“ rather than “fewer” on its checkout signs. “Ten items or less” is grammatically wrong.
Fewer is used with countable nouns- nouns you can put a number in front of. Tables, chairs, pens, balls, postcards, people, and students and so on are all countable nouns and should be used with “fewer.”
“Ten items or fewer.” Often seen grammatically incorrect at check-out lines advising how many items to take pay for at that till.
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“Fewer people live in the countryside these days.” People is a countable noun- the irregular plural of “person”, so fewer must be used.
“Fewer students are studying languages in the UK.” “Students” is a countable noun- the regular form of “student”, so again fewer must be used here.
“Fewer newspapers are bought because people read the new on line.” What sort of noun is “newspaper”? Well, you can buy three difference newspapers (or more if you want!) so it must be countable, and therefore use fewer.
“There were fewer voters in this year’s election.” Voters? Countable, as every politician knows! Use fewer in this case.
Less is used with uncountable nouns- nouns you cannot use a number with. Advice, air, compassion, employment, fruit, homework, and news, and so on are all uncountable nouns, and should be used with “less”.
“There is less oxygen on the top of Mount Everest.” You can't have “one oxygen” so it is uncountable, use “less” in this case.
“I have less money now there is a recession.” Money is an uncountable noun, so you must use “less” to be grammatically correct.
“She bought less food this week because she is going on holiday.” Food is uncountable, individual items countable. But we are talking about “food” in general here, so use “less”.
“My new job is great, but they pay me less.” The noun “job” is countable, but this person is talking about their “pay”, and “pay” is an uncountable noun, so use “less”.
“He weighs less since he went on a diet.” “Weight” is an uncountable noun, although kilos and pounds can be counted all too easily. But, here, it is the “weight” that matters, so that must be “less”.
I you can count it use “fewer”, if you can’t, use “less”.
Complete the sentences with fewer/less - Answers below.
1. I read ____________ books these days.
2. I eat more vegetables, but ________ fruit.
3. They have been married _______ than one year.
4. I drive ________ than you.
5. I have ________ friends than my sister.
1. fewer, 2.less, 3.less, 4.less, 5. fewer