Q: Fewer vs. less: what’s the difference? I see them used interchangeably.
A: Yes, there’s a difference, even though both words are the opposite of “more.”
If you are describing a noun (i.e. person, place or thing) and you would reasonably count amounts of it with numbers, use “fewer.” If you can’t count it, “less” is the way to go. If you’re describing the intensity of a descriptive word (i.e. an adjective or adverb), use “less” for that as well.
Deputy Rick: “I wish it were less apocalyptic today. There’s a hoard of zombies in the Wawa.”
Deputy Shane: “Can you call fewer than 15 zombies a hoard? They’re a swarm, maybe.”
Rick: “I need less talk and more ideas.”
Three notable exceptions to the above rules are time, money and distance. All can be counted, yet “less” is used when quantifying those. Examples:
Rick: “The closest zombie is less than 50 feet away, near the Tastykakes. He’s moving at a slow shamble, but that still gives us less than 5 minutes.”
Shane: “We should have bought more bullets, but the budget for ammo was less than $1,000 this month. Looks like we have fewer bullets than we have zombies.”
Rick: “That’s OK. I see Darryl and his crossbow near the coffee fixings. Things are starting to look a little less hopeless.”
Note: Most supermarkets have grammatically incorrect signs on express lanes, welcoming shoppers with “10 items or less.” It should be “10 items or fewer.”
Have a marketing challenge? Call Kim Landry at 484-829-0021 or email [email protected].