Skip to main content

Fewer vs. Less (Grammar Rules)

Learn when it's most appropriate to use fewer or less with Grammar Rules from the Writer's Digest editors, including a few examples of correct usages.

When a writer wants to compare the size of something, it's easy to know what to say when it's greater: Just use "more." That is, I want more mashed potatoes, or my friend has 10 more pencils than I do. However, it gets a little more complicated when we take it back the other way, because we have two options: fewer or less.

(Grammar rules for writers.)

So let's look at the most appropriate time to use fewer and less.

Fewer vs. Less (Grammar Rules)

Fewer vs. Less

For the most part, fewer is used to indicate a smaller number of people or things. In this example, I might have 7 fewer friends than my brother or 5 fewer books than my friend. Fewer is used with countable nouns, like crayons, sticks, or words.

(Writing Mistakes Writers Make.)

Less, on the other hand, is mostly used for indicating a smaller amount of uncountable nouns, like milk, glue, or time. As such, I might say that I have less milk than my friend or less glue than my classmates. Milk and glue are not countable.

That said, ounces and bottles are countable. So I could use similar examples to say something like "give me six fewer ounces of milk" or "our class has five fewer bottles of glue." 

Fewer is never used for uncountable nouns, but less is sometimes used with countable nouns, especially when used as part of the phrases "less than" and "or less." This tends to crop up most frequently with increments of time, money, weight, and percentages. 

When in doubt, be safe and use "fewer" for countable nouns and "less" for uncountable nouns.

Make sense?

Here are a few examples:

Correct: Joey has fewer marbles than Julia.
Incorrect: Joey has less marbles than Julia.

Correct: Could you take up less space for your workout?
Incorrect: Could you take up fewer space for your workout?

Correct: Spend $15 or less on the present.
Incorrect: Spend $15 or fewer on the present.

While there can be exceptions for time, money, weight, and percentages, you'll likely be on the right path using fewer whenever you're using it with countable nouns and less with uncountable nouns.

*****

Grammar and Mechanics

No matter what type of writing you do, mastering the fundamentals of grammar and mechanics is an important first step to having a successful writing career.

Click to continue.

Poetry Prompt

Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 596

Every Wednesday, Robert Lee Brewer shares a prompt and an example poem to get things started on the Poetic Asides blog. This week, write a punishment poem.

Jacquelyn Mitchard: On Forgiveness in Fiction

Jacquelyn Mitchard: On Forgiveness in Fiction

Award-winning novelist Jacquelyn Mitchard discusses the chance meeting that led to her new novel, The Good Son.

Sea Bound

Sea Bound

Every writer needs a little inspiration once in a while. For today's prompt, write about someone connected to the sea.

writersMarket_wd-ad_1000x300 (1)

Get Published With the Latest Market Books Editions

Get published and find more success with your writing by using the latest editions of the Market Books, including Writer's Market, Poet's Market, Guide to Literary Agents, and more!

Michigan Quarterly Review: Market Spotlight

Michigan Quarterly Review: Market Spotlight

For this week's market spotlight, we look at Michigan Quarterly Review, the flagship literary journal of the University of Michigan.

Desperate vs. Disparate (Grammar Rules)

Desperate vs. Disparate (Grammar Rules)

This post looks at the differences between desperate and disparate with Grammar Rules from the Writer's Digest editors, including a few examples of correct usages.

What Is Pastiche in Literature, and Why Is Sherlock Holmes Perfect for It?

What Is Pastiche in Literature, and Why Is Sherlock Holmes Perfect for It?

What has made Sherlock Holmes so adaptable and changeable throughout the character’s original inception? Author Timothy Miller explains.

How to Write Through Grief and Find Creativity

How to Write Through Grief and Find Creativity

When author Diana Giovinazzo found herself caught in the storm of grief, doing what she loved felt insurmountable. Here, she shares how she worked through her grief to find her creativity again.

writer's digest wd presents

WD Presents: Our Brand-New Digital Guide, 6 WDU Courses, and More!

This week, we’re excited to announce our new “Get Published in 2022” digital guide, six new WDU courses, and more!