Word Fact: Fewer vs. Less


Misuse of the terms fewer and less will set off alarms in the heads of many language enthusiasts. According to usage rules, fewer is only to be used when discussing countable things, while less is used for singular mass nouns. For example, you can have fewer ingredients, dollars, people, or puppies, but less salt, money, honesty, or love. If you can count it, go for fewer. If you can’t, opt for less.

However, it’s not that simple. Since the reign of Alfred the Great, a time when Old English was spoken, less has been used in the same way that fewer is currently used. This long history of usage accounts for supermarkets posting the words “10 Items or Less” over the express lanes, when “10 Items or Fewer” is the grammatically correct option.

If we know the intended meaning of the supermarket signs, does using fewer or less really matter? To many who have internalized the fewer or less distinction, the answer is yes. Using less where fewer is expected will sound jarring to their ears, so consider this as you count items or amounts in the future.

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  1. de Valois -  July 10, 2016 - 9:48 pm

    “10 items or less” is the correct form and “10 items or fewer” is a classic example of hypercorrection.
    In this context, ‘less” is used predicatively – denoting a lesser quantity.
    ‘less’ is the correct form after a number so in the example quoted above of “three beers or less” it is the number which requires “or less” not the fact that beer is uncountable. In any case, in that example “beer” means “glass of beer” or “can of beer” so “beer” is actually countable.

    I bought less cheese than I did last week and fewer packets of biscuits so I ended up with fewer items overall. That’s why I went through the checkout that said “10 items or less”.

  2. […] Fewer vs. Less: Use fewer when referring to countable things and less when referring to abstract things. Example: We have less money after visiting the wine store. We have fewer bottles of wine in our collection after our impromptu Friday night get together with friends. […]

  3. Mister Ed -  February 5, 2015 - 4:18 am

    Years ago, in a supermarket in central Pennsylvania, I saw my favorite (and friendliest) Express Lane sign; “About 12 items.” Seemed like it said less while inviting fewer scowls.

    • Matt -  February 11, 2015 - 10:16 pm

      That’s pretty good, but “about a dozen” would have been even better.

    • sue Morris -  November 6, 2015 - 2:22 pm

      First of all, the word “about” is really not telling you anything. Is it about 15, or about 20? The sign really tells you nothing..

      • Sam -  October 8, 2016 - 3:10 am

        Hi Sue Morris,

        Pretty certain the ambiguity of the “about” was the whole point, vaguely amusing and not meant to be taken seriously – in grammatical terms or otherwise.

    • Martin Harvey -  June 4, 2016 - 4:53 am

      I disagree – I think about is just fine whether referring to twelve or a dozen. In reality, what the supermarket is saying is this is a line for people with smaller orders. Fewer items of course but if one has 3 apples and ten other miscellaneous things to me it’s fine to use this line.

      Of course, if the supermarket had a bakery then we might be referring to a ‘baker’s dozen’.

      But maybe, the less said the better, eh?

  4. Sajor Barrie -  February 4, 2015 - 7:58 am

    why do we have to use a past tense whenever we use the words: high time, about time, time etc as in the example below.
    “it is HIGH TIME we STARTED talking to him.”
    I really want to get the principle behind that.

    • Leave Me Alone -  February 8, 2015 - 9:09 am

      I don’t think this is necessarily true – I’m pretty sure you do use the present tense. e.g. It’s high time you come to a decision, or it’s about time you do some work.
      Personally I’ve never heard those phrases used in the past tense.
      Hope this helps!

      • Moll -  February 20, 2015 - 11:12 pm

        You definitely use the past tense here- “high time you CAME to a decision” ; “high time you DID some work. And high time I began to do some work instead of spending my time on this fascinating blog.

        • Roro -  May 4, 2015 - 2:19 am

          You use the past tense as it denotes both temporal and hypothetical distance: “It’s high time you came to a decision” is a hypothetical situation and therefore requires the usage of the past tense. Voilà voilà!

          • Propp -  August 23, 2015 - 2:09 am

            It is not the past tense. Technically speaking this is the Subjunctive mood, which is almost non-existent in modern English as a separate form. It uses “past tense forms” now (except, may be, “I wish I were” instead of “was”). In other languages (for example French and Spanish) they use special forms for this.

        • tiffany -  December 1, 2015 - 4:55 pm

          I disagree. How about “high time you DECIDE” or “high time you make a decision” etc
          “high time you DO some work”

          • Sam -  October 8, 2016 - 3:22 am

            You may disagree, but you are wrong.
            Correct usage is “high time you made a decision” or “high time you did some work”.
            Please don’t argue the contrary, you are obviously American and, as we all know, are therefore incapable of correct use of the English language (emphasis on ‘English’). Americans can not even spell correctly – e.g.colour, honour, etc.

    • Edward -  February 10, 2015 - 1:55 am

      Hey Sajor. Simple past is not necessary after “high time” (or other similar phrases); simple present could indeed work just as well. It depends on what the person who’s talking is really saying: your question seems to be about the value of the simple past in this instance.

      When using the simple past, the actuality of the action (the fact that your are actually going to talk to him) is less than when using the simple present. The two tenses lead to two different interpretive (and thus possibly “real-life”) outcomes:

      “It’s high time we start talking to him.” —> “Indeed: let’s!”
      “It’s high time we started talking to him.” —> “Yeah, but I can be bothered right now / But we’re bastards so we won’t / But he can figure it out on his own.”

      Hope it helps.

      • Frank Casale -  April 30, 2015 - 5:21 pm

        Agreed! Both sentences are consistent with present and past tenses, respectively.

    • No one important -  February 12, 2015 - 6:17 am

      Hi Sajor. You actually have a verb tense disagreement in that quotation. “Is” is the present tense conjugation of the infinitive verb “to be” while “started” is the past tense conjugation of the infinitive verb “to start”.

      Most of the time I have heard that phrase as using “it’s” rather than “it is” as you have quoted. The confusion comes in because “it’s” is a contraction of both “it is” and “it was”. So if someone says, “it’s high time we started talking to him,” they are actually saying, “it was high time we started talking to him.” Since “was” and “started” are both past tense verb conjugations there is no disagreement in that sentence.

    • A Commenter -  April 21, 2015 - 8:24 pm

      I’m guessing that this is some sort of corruption of a form of the English subjunctive. You would say “he was at the store” but “I wish he were at the store.” And this kind of expression, as a denial of reality, is closer to the second sentence. It is possible that, stemming from the mostly informal usage of those expressions, the strictly technical yet unused version would be “It’s high time he were at the store” But that form is unused

    • Frank Casale -  April 30, 2015 - 5:14 pm

      Now, is the proper time to focus on the article!

    • tiffany -  December 1, 2015 - 4:50 pm

      I believe that, properly stated, it would read “It is high time we START talking to him.”

  5. Victor -  February 3, 2015 - 9:27 pm

    Thanks! That is now one *fewer* mistake that I’ll be making from now on! Or is that one *less* mistake?

    While I was pleased to see that Dictionary.com had given both sides to this fewer vs. less absurdity of a “rule”, I was deeply disappointed by the fact that the vast majority of the comments came from prescriptivist grammarians giving Dictionary.com an approving nod for mentioning their sacred “rule”.

    The fewer vs. less “rule” originated from a grammarian in 1770 who merely expressed an opinion that he preferred using “fewer” for countable things while the vast majority of people had been using “less” for countable things. As with many prescriptivist grammar rules, someone transcribed that opinion into a book and suddenly it became standard.

    Quite simply, using “fewer” or “less” for countable things is strictly a personal choice. Just don’t be ridiculous about it and say awkward constructions such as “I ate fewer than two sweets today.”

      • Mikkel -  July 31, 2015 - 3:15 pm

        Great analysis. I’ve been saying it for ages now. ‘Fewer’ only for plural nouns while ‘less’ can be used in any case.

        • J buksa -  December 5, 2015 - 9:15 pm

          Biggest faux pas in the world of advertising. Such and such a product has less calories rather than fewer….am I right?

    • JC -  February 5, 2015 - 10:52 pm

      Rules don’t have to be published to become rules. “Fewer” is the comparative of “few”, and “less” is the comparative of “little”. Because “few” is used with countable nouns, so is “fewer”. There’s no confusion about “many” and “much” because they have the same comparative, “more”.

  6. StarsDiedForUs -  February 3, 2015 - 4:46 pm

    Right, because we should consider the poor ears of pedantic assholes.

  7. Mind Meld -  February 3, 2015 - 4:05 am

    The concept, differentiating uncountable/countable is not unique in language. In German we have viel/viele for many, so maybe it is important. But however we say it, it is not as annoying as misuse of affect/effect!

  8. Math -  February 2, 2015 - 5:24 pm

    Read the following inequality aloud:
    5 < 7
    Now shut the hell up.

    • Alia -  February 8, 2015 - 8:09 pm

      If you wanted to be really, super-extra generous, you could say that because you need one term for < and numbers other than whole ones aren't all that "countable" we must use "less than."

      However, I agree with you that Dictionary.com needs to shut the Hell up. After they took the stance that because "could care less" had become generally used, it had entered language and was therefore as correct as "could not care less," this vacillation reeks of grammatical injustice.

  9. Annabeth Chase fan -  February 2, 2015 - 5:04 pm

    I think it’s less because if you were trying to decide whether to put fewer or less on a billboard, less is only 4 letters and fewer is 5 letters, so if you put less, there would be more space for the more important stuff.
    But if you were trying to professional, you should put down ‘fewer’ because a) it has more letters and b) it’s like ‘stuff’ or ‘things’. THINGS!!!! Der.

    • Corey -  February 11, 2015 - 10:47 am

      Annabeth Chase fan –
      Your right about the supermarket thing.they don’t care about grammar simply fit grammar’s sake; nor the history of it.
      No different than a newspaper, essentially…
      … what’s important there is if it scans.

      • Debsy55 -  February 12, 2015 - 3:24 am

        Didn’t you mean “you’re” right?

  10. hunter -  February 2, 2015 - 9:42 am

    i hate this

    • hunter -  February 2, 2015 - 9:42 am


      • wtf is wrong with u? -  February 2, 2015 - 7:07 pm

        damn. i dont care if u hate this. no one does. if ur comments are positive, wh?as i.said, shut t f up

        • emma -  February 9, 2015 - 9:24 pm

          How old r u?

          • Lenny -  May 21, 2015 - 8:51 am

            21 ( ͡°͜ ʖ ͡°)

      • Talay'ya Johnson -  February 3, 2015 - 1:11 pm


      • ar -  February 3, 2015 - 11:36 pm


      • Jermain Hazzard -  February 4, 2015 - 11:58 am

        hi lol

      • Aaron -  February 5, 2015 - 8:02 am

        So our money can’t be counted…. We are so broke, that’s kind of sad. All jokes aside I can kind of understand this rule but…. It is really unnecessary.

      • emma -  February 9, 2015 - 9:26 pm

        Why r u replying 2 urself?

    • Henny -  February 2, 2015 - 11:34 am


    • Jack -  February 2, 2015 - 12:44 pm


    • rtr -  February 3, 2015 - 10:49 am


    • Sufyan -  February 3, 2015 - 11:19 am

      this is stupid

    • Julio Mcfadden -  February 3, 2015 - 4:09 pm

      Phhhhhh. Hater.

    • Julio Mcfadden -  February 3, 2015 - 4:14 pm

      I think that fewer and less mean the same thing. I don’t care if they have different definitions.

    • Marcia -  February 4, 2015 - 11:37 am

      I always think: Fewer in number, less in amount. Makes it easier

    • your name beer -  February 4, 2015 - 3:12 pm

      The word ” However” has been used incorrectly in the second paragraph .Fewer mistakes mean less aggravation.

    • your name beer -  February 4, 2015 - 3:16 pm

      I hate THAT. Haha, Iddon’t even know, because the English lanquage rules are under construction . its not exclusive; However, it is not inclusive, either. Now its getting interesting! What’s it?

  11. willy -  February 2, 2015 - 6:31 am

    simply put: 1 to 10 items only

  12. willy -  February 2, 2015 - 6:30 am

    simply put: 1-10 items only

    • Henny -  February 2, 2015 - 11:36 am


      10 items or fewer…

      Wait – I think I just used bad grammar. :-)

      • Henny -  February 3, 2015 - 2:55 pm

        Hey! I just realized that the reason I thought I used bad grammar was because we have grown so fond of “10 items or less” ! Haha! LOL! :)

  13. Royce Babbit -  February 2, 2015 - 5:47 am

    So being grammatically correct, isn’t the idea to make a complete thought. 10 items – This value here as far as being “countable” or more than one , or pleuralized, <- if you will , 10 can not be counted, because to understand 10 is to have all ready have counted it. Items can be counted but when you ask your self grammar rules, WHAT ARE THERE 10 OF? , the answer would be items, and so you have to link the two together. So you can cant count ten. In addition If you just must use "fewer" logically I think you only use it ahead of your pleural word instead of following it. Why you ask .? "use fewer parts." the logic states that you want to use less then what you see, or account for, so you may see 10 gears, but only use 9 more so you can only say there are few once you identify there are more than one gear. so you see gear, you see gear (2) which now makes gear turn into "gears" or "parts" now that you have identified "(2) gear" or gear count : 2 , you can officially say "few" in your sentence. Here is the tricky part do count something there is only 1 of or is it understood. If few is then defined as more than 1 , the only way to identify a count of 1 by having 2 then to "er" the few , is to take away from the count but not by many.. "use parts fewer" Use parts, reads complete, then you go to the next word fewer , " use them less?, use less of them? .

  14. Valarie -  February 1, 2015 - 12:45 am

    I love our blogs!!! Y’all makin me supa smart w less mistakes which is 10 or fewer. Yeah baby!

    • Henny -  February 2, 2015 - 11:36 am


    • Jermain Hazzard -  February 4, 2015 - 11:58 am

      I hate it

  15. lucy ardole -  January 31, 2015 - 4:48 pm

    I really do feel as if people use their exciding knowledge of English to be hurtful to others. I do hope that the people commenting on this article have lives that do not revolve around knowing every little thing about the English language. That being said, I understand that a lot of folks just enjoy knowing these things, but for those of you who think that you’re better than everyone else for knowing what an oxymoron is or the difference between than and then, or less and fewer, should consider having low self esteem and insecurities. Oh, and it’s kind of weird how it seems as if everyone commenting here is making a really hard effort to sound like a PhD graduate.

    • Bob -  February 2, 2015 - 1:06 pm


    • Margarethe Bracey -  February 2, 2015 - 7:42 pm

      Lucy, speaking and writing proper English is every educated person’s privilege and duty. It is an important way to maintain civilization and pass it on undebased to the next generation. It has nothing to do with self esteem — except in the large, global sense — or personal insecurity. And, yes, people who speak English should know the definition of oxymoron and the difference between than and then, less and fewer as well as the other rules of language. If you feel bad about yourself for not knowing some of these things, you should make an effort to learn rather than criticize those who do.

    • Julio Mcfadden -  February 3, 2015 - 4:08 pm

      Yeah. People want to know everything. But it’s natural. Humans are curios. We all came from monkeys, so makes sense.

    • Marcia -  February 4, 2015 - 11:44 am

      No one I know is trying to sound like a PhD. They just learned good grammar and it makes a difference to them. Has nothing to do with self-esteem – apples and oranges sort of thing. As far as people having lives – you replied. It’s just something we run across when checking on a word!

    • Oskar -  February 4, 2015 - 3:41 pm

      Ah, Lucy! As is often the case in regard (not “regards”) to people who make comments such as yours, it is only considered as being too picky when one goes one step further than the one complaining that one is being too picky. Where is the line to be drawn? The rules of grammar exist for a reason, and that is to make things clear and concise and to avoid ambiguity and confusion. These rules exist for much the same reason as traffic rules and laws. Certainly, we can get from point A to point B by ignoring traffic laws and courtesies, but traffic would be one hell of a mess if we did this. We all aren’t simply being pedantic, but rather using what we have taken the time and effort to learn so that others can more easily understand what ideas, etc. we are trying to convey. School teachers of all levels would be wise to follow these rules closely, as they often have students who have difficulty figuring out poorly worded, or incorrectly written, exam questions and are penalized for the teachers’ mistakes or ignorance, even if clarification of the question is asked for in a tactful manner.

    • Pablo Contador -  February 5, 2015 - 2:05 am

      Is there a difference between an oxymoron and a deviant co-location?

  16. Ono Wright -  January 31, 2015 - 12:56 pm

    The Door by Pouxin (A Star Trek fanfiction.)

    Tell me three things you like about me in five seconds or less.”

    “Five seconds or fewer,” Spock corrects automatically.

    “Jesus, Spock, enough with the Grammar Nazism already. They mean exactly the same thing.”

    “They do not mean exactly the same thing.”

    “Do so. I should know, it’s my goddamn language.”

    Spock gives him a cool, appraising look, then continues as if Jim hasn’t spoken. “For example, would you discern a difference between my saying: ‘Captain, you are one of the few intelligent people aboard this starship’, and ‘Captain, you are one of the less intelligent people aboard this starship?’”

    Which words to use while complimenting an individual may/might make a difference. Personally, I hate the fact that Webster alter England’s english (I understand the ‘why of it’ but don’t like the results). I am displeased with the fact that America’s english language isn’t the ‘official’ language of this country.

  17. micah -  January 30, 2015 - 2:41 pm

    Colloquial and marketing English is different from formal written English. The prepositions argument, I don’t want to touch that one. “What are you talking about?” (Laughing) Point made.

    At the same time, as a English tutor who has International students, I usually draw a picture to explain the difference between fewer and less. I would draw a picture of drinking glasses. I take one glass away, and then explain that there are now fewer glasses than they had before. Then I would draw some liquid or water in the drinking glasses with different amounts. Then I’d point and say, “See that glass has less liquid in it than the other glass.”

    • Rev francis kumi -  June 20, 2015 - 7:17 am

      1.The correct usage of bless and blessed, and the difference between them.
      2.The correct usage of l’m and l am.

  18. Name -  January 30, 2015 - 11:53 am

    “fewer is only to be used when discussing countable things, while less is used for singular mass nouns”

    My problem with this issue is that the above statement is an oversimplification that doesn’t account for all instances of correct usage. My counterexample is this:

    8 < 10

    Every math class will teach that this is pronounced, "eight is less than ten." That's why it's called the "less than sign." Clearly, if less is appropriate for *numbers*, the very essence of countability, then they must also be appropriate for countable things.

    I also find it interesting that the first recorded instance of the "don't use less for countable things" concept dates back to one writer in the 18th century, while the OED's oldest reference for the correct use of less for countable things was from King Alfred the Great in the year 888.

    • Julio Mcfadden -  February 3, 2015 - 4:11 pm

      you looked that up.

      • Frank Casale -  May 1, 2015 - 7:29 am

        No.That knowledge was instilled in him when he was born!
        Of course he read up on it! It’s called “becoming knowledgeable”.

    • Dan -  February 4, 2015 - 11:22 pm

      Yes, it does seem odd that they would word that function in such a way. But if you consider how mathematicians view the numeric system it makes sense.

      Consider the true value of the unit 1. It merely represents a natural quantity that humans have a basic understanding of. But that very same unit can be divided up into infinite parts, fractions if you will. 1 has never equaled 1, as it is merely a concept.

      There are also instances in mathematics where the result cannot be given an exact quantitative measure, such as non-real numbers. That ‘greater than/less than,’ function would then be referring to the conceptual amount, which would be understood more in the manner of a virtual volume than an actual unit. Maths has always been about concepts, and concepts cannot be counted the same way physical items or volumes are. Hence ‘less than,’ would refer to the ‘size,’ – so to speak – of the lesser value (concept) in relation to the ‘greater,’ value.

      This is my reasoning on the instance. But if I need to be corrected on the matter then I would very much appreciate help.

  19. Bob -  January 30, 2015 - 6:36 am

    “10 Items or less” irks me (I’m an editor), but at the same time, I understand that it takes up less space on a sign, so I get why we continue to see it that way instead of “10 items or fewer.”

    • TB from Minnesota -  January 30, 2015 - 2:19 pm

      So then old expressions such as “more or less” are wrong? ;-)

      • joe -  February 4, 2015 - 10:58 pm

        No. You can say more or less salt for example. But saying more or less apples would sound wrong.

    • Bobby -  January 31, 2015 - 6:45 am


    • Cndy -  January 31, 2015 - 7:41 am

      Why can’t it be “No more than 10 items”?

      • soliana -  February 4, 2015 - 12:48 pm

        I agree

    • Kriss -  January 31, 2015 - 7:49 am

      I’m a total grammar purist. Even though I make some mistakes, I want to use the language correctly, so I look for the lessons.
      The less and fewer debate is a favorite, but you say less takes up less room on the sign. One letter and half a space? Here are a couple of other debates for which a news director gave me guidelines: Lay and Lie – chickens lay eggs; people lie down. Cakes are done; people are finished. To Spacefender below, English is our language. We need to make the effort to use our language correctly. Also, it’s not nice to ridicule people for what they believe or enjoy. Please say you’re sorry and you’ll never do it again! :-)

    • Joan -  January 31, 2015 - 5:45 pm

      I’m with you, Bob, but it’s not only grocery stores that misuse “less” and “fewer.” I hear it all the time on the radio and TV, and from those who should know better. That bothers me more than the sign over the check-out counter. (Once an English teacher, always an English teacher, I guess.)

    • Babadu Cato -  January 31, 2015 - 6:31 pm

      As Spacefender says, we might as well get our fainting couches ready. We will always see “10 items of less” because the person who posted it saw someone else post that, who saw someone else post that, who saw someone else…..

    • Valarie -  February 1, 2015 - 12:42 am

      I love these blogs! You all helpin me have less mistakes which comes to 10 or fewer!!!!

      • Jermain Hazzard -  February 4, 2015 - 12:00 pm

        Just joking i love it ………………………………The Ghost #1

    • Billy Jr. -  February 1, 2015 - 8:58 am

      Good job dad.

    • Star -  February 1, 2015 - 9:21 am

      Publix supermarket chain has it correct. Its sign states “10 Items or Fewer,” which is one reason I like to shop there.

    • Jon Dewey -  February 1, 2015 - 2:39 pm

      Notice, though, that if the signs said “10 or fewer items” most people WOULD prefer than to “10 or less items.”

      The location of “less” in the phrase makes it seems less odd than it is.

    • Henny -  February 3, 2015 - 2:43 pm

      Yes, and you probably have noticed that we use the term “10 items or less” so much that now we consider “10 items or fewer” bad grammar!! What the WHAT!?! :) :) :)

      I am TOATALLY with you! ;)

    • Kristi -  February 12, 2015 - 7:18 am

      Why not just “1-10 Items”; it has fewer characters than “10 Items or Less” and is not grammatically incorrect.

  20. Catrov -  January 29, 2015 - 6:49 pm

    How about an article on the inverse situation: is it “greater than 15 items” or is it “more than”? Also there are exception cases: “less than 10 gallons of gas” sounds better than “fewer than …” even though by enumerating the gallon measures you’ve made them countable. Further special case: water is generally a non-countable quantity (“less water”) but in the expression “the warm waters of the Caribbean” it is plural, yet still not countable (just how many waters does the Caribbean have?).

    • Katy -  January 31, 2015 - 5:19 am

      Love it! Clever!

    • Bryan -  February 2, 2015 - 12:32 am

      Fewer tends to be used with countable objects. If I were buying water in gallon jugs, grabbing 3, I would tend to say I have fewer than 4 gallons. Meanwhile, if I put 3 gallons in a four-gallon jug, I would tend to say I have less than 4 gallons. This is because in one example, I am referring to gallons themselves, and in the other I am referring to the water in reference to gallons. This is a great example of omission of detail in common English. I have less[water] than 4 gallons. I have fewer than 4 gallons. Both could be used in each example, however.
      “Greater” tends to be used when referring to size or volume, so it would make more sense if it were used qualitatively. Incidentally, “greater” is the opposite of “less” in mathematics.
      More refers to amount and can be used either quantitatively or qualitatively.
      Ideally, waters would be quantifiable, but it is just a colloquialism to distinguish that usage from the standard idea that is called by the word “water.”
      I hope this helped answer your (rhetorical) questions.

    • Sajor Barrie -  February 4, 2015 - 6:50 am

      lol..English is difficult tho.

    • Kristi -  February 12, 2015 - 7:26 am

      “1. More than 15 items”

      2. Less than 5 gallons of gas doesn’t sound better than “fewer than”

      3. You wouldn’t say “warm waters of the Caribbean Ocean”? The Caribbean is one ocean, not many, so “water” singular is used.

  21. spacefender -  January 29, 2015 - 5:50 pm

    Are people really getting distraught over ’10 items or less’ signs? I hope they have their fainting couches ready.

  22. Jonathan -  January 29, 2015 - 10:31 am

    “However” should never be used to start a sentence when the intended meaning is “but.” It should follow a semi-colon linking two sentences, or set off as a parenthetical in its own sentence.

    That having been said, how do people feel about using “less” when referencing time, e.g., I can do it in less than a second, or he arrive in less than ten minutes?

    • micah -  January 30, 2015 - 2:24 pm

      Hello Jonathan. I’m a writing tutor. “However” can be used as an adverb at the beginning of a sentence to mean “On the other hand.” At the same time, however can be used as a conjuction, (such as and, but, because) which is in the middle of the sentence. The puncutation really depends on the words you use and how you construct the sentence. Some examples are: You are academically smart; however, you don’t have any common sense. Dress however you like. As you can see, however as a conjunction doesn’t always need a semi-colon and a comma to make sense and a complete sentence.

  23. Brent Knudsen -  January 29, 2015 - 7:01 am

    If “10 items” is a mass noun, why so? Once “10″ is put in front of it, doesn’t it become countable? Would “A few items or less” be grammatically correct or does “few” make it countable?

    • Jason -  January 30, 2015 - 11:31 am

      I personally believe “a few items or fewer” sounds repetitive. Having it be “a few items or less” sounds more appealing to the ear, verses “a few items or fewer.” I, however, do not know what the rules are on this topic.

    • Sean -  January 31, 2015 - 11:56 pm

      This is because a mass noun is still “countable”. If you think of “mass” in a literal context, being a specific number of a particular type of part per unit of volume, then a “mass” is countable. A mass may seem as though it is one whole part, of a particular magnitude or size, but it is always composed of a specific number of “things”, so to speak, within a three-dimensional space, or in other words, “volume”. For the given examples of salt and money, salt is composed of a specific quantity of molecules of sodium-chloride, or sodium-(some other element) contained within a three-dimensional space (volume), and is therefore a specific, “countable” quantity. Money functions in the same manner; it is a specific quantity of dollars, cents, or fractions or multiples of either, and is therefore also a “countable” quantity as a part of a total set of countable elements. You can have X amount of money, but this must be a total sum of individual dollars, or cents (mathematically 1/100 of one dollar, obviously). Therefore, a “mass noun” is still composed of a specified and countable quantity of whatever type of element composes that total set of the noun. Whether the noun be tangible or conceptual, it can still always be broken down into a countable set, since the “mass” must be composed of multiple parts of some type of “thing”. The only exception that I can consider is love, which I believe is either “full on” or “full off”, so to speak. It is either present or it is not. Love must be in total and full, or not existent. There is no quantity for love. So possibly there are exceptions, but in general, a mass noun is going to be countable, given the examples of salt or money.

  24. Brent -  January 29, 2015 - 6:57 am

    I believe the reason “10 items or less” is used is because the phrase “10 items or fewer” sounds a bit more clunky.

    To the mass noun argument, why should that be in force? When a number is placed in front of the noun “items,” it becomes countable, doesn’t it?

    Maybe it should say “A few items or less”. Does “few” still make it countable?

    • armeen -  January 31, 2015 - 3:23 am

      you idiots.

      • Henny -  February 3, 2015 - 2:49 pm

        And why do you say that?

        Brent has a good point, there!

  25. Diego Oliveira -  January 29, 2015 - 4:59 am

    I reckon it less of a nuisance for the few folks who find listening to “less” where “fewer” would be desired to disaccustom their ears so that it will not sound “jarring” than for the common people to have to mind about such ludicrous matters.

    • Babadu Cato -  January 31, 2015 - 7:05 pm

      Now there’s a term nuanced by the context. Ludicrous? Lending to absurdity or incongruity. The issue is not JUST the “10 items or fewer…er less” signs; rather, it is the correctness of usage in our delicate language. “The King’s English” has undergone onslaughts of indignity and impurity, rendering it less classic and sullied. Alas, the refined eloquence of articulation which graced the lines of communication via poetry, vocal music, and literary prose have been dampened and depreciated by the uncultured and unconcerned.

  26. Jim -  January 28, 2015 - 7:04 pm

    I agree, the children (like myself) have lost the proper way of communicating by saying “Nah,” which I find is ludicrous and needs to corrected.

  27. elmer pregg -  January 28, 2015 - 3:26 pm

    If one pot of soup is full, and the other is half-full, does the second pot have less soup (incorrect) or fewer soup (correct)?

    • Rebecca -  January 31, 2015 - 10:02 am

      I’m afraid this is the wrong way round. Soup is a ‘mass noun’ or an ‘uncountable noun’, therefore ‘less’ in this case would be correct: The pot has less soup

    • Jill -  January 31, 2015 - 11:51 am

      The word “less” is a pronoun, Elmer. It determines a smaller amount of soup, not pots.

    • Dan Crane -  January 31, 2015 - 8:07 pm

      Even though you are comparing it to another bowl of soup, it is itself LESS full because you are only stating that one thing being smaller in ratio content.

      If you instead chose to say “soup particles” for that one bowl, then this would make it “fewer” ; “There are fewer particles of soup in this bowl, than the other.” –

      “There is |less soup| in this room”
      Singular Representation.

      “There was |less soup| in this room”
      Past Tense Singular Representation

      “There |are fewer| soups in this room”
      Plural Representation (Like different flavours of soup)

      “There |were fewer| soups in this room”
      Past Tense Plural Representation (Like different flavours of soup)

      IS + WAS = less
      ARE + WERE = Fewer

      Unless you’re hip and say “They is cool.” or go all out in the supermarket and say “Do you want they?” whilst holding up a jar of pickles.

      Also, again…
      “There is a sheep on my foot.”
      IS = singular.

      “There are sheep around my feet”
      ARE = plural.

      I brought this in because “sheep” is both singular and plural, whereas “jars” would turn into “jars” which then reverts back to the IS and ARE part.

      I hope this helps.

    • gemmapalmer@sbcglobal.net -  February 1, 2015 - 2:30 am

      We are not thinking about the “one” in isolation, but instead the “one pot of soup” in which we are referring to the “soup”. So “less” in this case would
      be correct.

    • Archie -  February 1, 2015 - 10:01 am

      You can’t count soup. Of course the second pot has less soup. You could count bowls of soup or pots of soup, but not soup itself. It’s like salt.

  28. Rick -  January 28, 2015 - 2:50 pm

    What a clear and elegant definition

  29. Trish -  January 28, 2015 - 10:05 am

    Although it may seem incorrect to use “10 items or less” on signs in a store, it actually is correct because the amount someone is to choose other than the 10 items is a “mass noun” amount that isn’t an exact count. It could be any mass grouping of 1 through 9. It makes sense to me this way.

    • elmer pregg -  January 28, 2015 - 3:28 pm

      ” 10 ” is NOT a noun. And you can’t just invent a word to prove your point.


      • micah -  January 30, 2015 - 2:27 pm

        Since when? 10 is a noun or an adjective. It depends on how you use the number.

    • Jill -  January 30, 2015 - 8:03 am

      But a shopper is not choosing an “amount”, he or she is choosing a “number” of items. I’m assuming it’s not a pile of road salt, it’s a pile of items, each packaged separately from the others. Your theory seems a little strange to me and I personally prefer the other usage. However it is good to know that either is correct!

      • Bryan -  February 2, 2015 - 12:39 am

        There are certain workarounds, such as to say that the less refers to “stuff” or any other unquantifiable collective noun. 10 items or less [stuff/merchandise/produce.] However, by standard omission rules, that wouldn’t be immediately obvious by usage, so it isn’t valid omission. An example of valid use would be to say I have less than 10 gallons of gas in my tank. That is known to refer to the gas in reference to gallons rather than the gallons themselves. That’s not the same as the original example, though, “items” is the only noun present in the sentence, so the “less” is assumed to be in reference to the quantifiable noun it indirectly modifies.

    • Grammar Nazi -  January 30, 2015 - 11:51 am

      Though I understand your grouping reasoning, the fact that a specific number of items is being used automatically necessitates “fewer.” “10 items” is NOT a mass noun. It’s 10 items.
      Counted nouns = fewer
      Singular noun or adjectives = less

    • Dan Crane -  January 31, 2015 - 9:19 pm

      10 itemSSS or any 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 less. Hmm.
      I think yours only works if you say “10 items or one less”

      because as soon as you say 2 less you should say fewer, but you must refer to 10 or imply that for it to make sense.
      Because 2 fewer on its own leaves a void as it is in relation to another that hasn’t been stated. 2 places, 2 things, 2 items, 2 numbers.. where is the second?:
      “2 fewer”
      “2 fewer?”
      “2 fewer than 10!”

      THEN it sounds in place.

      “There is less people than I had imagined” Awkward
      “There are fewer people than I had imagined” Better

      The awkward one should, if it was a word, be “are lesser” because the sentence is specifically refering to something other than itself in relation… forcing it into lesser…
      But less only refers to itself, whereas fewer is the lesser (plural) for less.

      Christ you made me think hard. This is becoming a roundbabout.

    • Davidh -  February 2, 2015 - 4:45 am

      The rule I was thought was that, you use less for not countable and fewer for countable, if you say that there are ten items you’re clearly counting them, so you should use fewer :)

  30. foridujjaman babu -  January 28, 2015 - 8:37 am

    luv u so much…

  31. Podraig -  January 27, 2015 - 4:55 pm

    u wot m8?

    • My Name is Jeff -  January 28, 2015 - 5:25 pm

      i r8 8/8

      • Billy Jr. -  February 1, 2015 - 8:59 am

        the name doee, u had to choose dat name

    • My Name is Juan -  February 2, 2015 - 3:36 pm

      get shrekt boi 420

  32. JC -  January 27, 2015 - 3:41 pm

    I would accept both “10 items or less” and “10 items or fewer”, but with slightly different meanings. For illustration, consider these two phrases: “He thinks it’s OK to drive after drinking 3 cans of beer or less [beer]” and “He thinks it’s OK to drive after drinking 3 cans of beer or fewer [cans].”

    • rlk -  January 28, 2015 - 5:25 pm

      I’d think the correct way to state your example would be “He thinks it’s OK to drive after drinking 3 cans of beer or less [beer]” and “He thinks it’s OK to drive after drinking 3 cans or fewer of beer”. Then it is very clear which way to go.

    • BCP -  January 30, 2015 - 9:47 am

      I agree with your beer example. However, with the supermarket example of “10 items or less” we’re not dealing with a countable measurement of a mass noun (such as 3 cans of beer), we’re dealing strictly with countable objects collectively referred to as “items”. The only scenario where it could be technically acceptable is if a customer were purchasing only one type of item such as juice.

      We should still understand the intent behind the sing though. Since people ignore it half the time it might be a good idea for supermarkets to try out the different wording.

      • Bryan -  February 2, 2015 - 12:43 am

        I hate to be that guy, but the items could be the quantifiable measurement of the unquantifiable (merchandise/produce/stuff/etc.) that they sell in stores. I don’t think it’s acceptable to omit something that isn’t even alluded to, though, so I’m not in favor or “10 items or less.”

  33. Dennis -  January 27, 2015 - 1:46 pm

    Bravo. Thank you for such a simple yet important distinction. I cringe when I see this lost in advertising slogans, sloppy news items and the like.

  34. Linda Vickery -  January 27, 2015 - 10:52 am

    I am impressed with the Word Fact information awed by the knowledge expressed in the comments. Will you please give an explanation for farther and further.

    • Bryan -  February 2, 2015 - 12:52 am

      “Farther” means at or to a greater distance (Vexingly, wherever “farther” is used, “further” is also at least somewhat acceptable because it refers to a *degree* of distance. “Farther” is more proper and specific, relevant, and proper wherever distance is in reference, though.) “Further” means to a greater degree. It can also be used transitively as a verb, meaning to do or improve something such that it moves to a greater degree.
      “I throw farther than you! (Refers to distance)
      “Don’t talk to me any further! (No reference to distance)
      “I go to college to further my education. (No reference to distance)

  35. Annabeth Chase -  January 27, 2015 - 9:37 am

    Did you do something on were vs. was?

    • aaa -  January 28, 2015 - 6:27 pm

      i was, we were.

      • Bryan -  February 2, 2015 - 1:10 am

        That wasn’t the question. Try not to be so simplistic about it. There’s also the subjunctive case. In the subjunctive case, were is always used.
        I am/was a man.
        If I were a man.
        There are men.
        If they were men.
        He is/was a man.
        If he were a man.
        We are/were men.
        If we were men.
        Wherever I used “if,” you could replace it with any other subjunctive indicator: (I wish, I suggest, I ask, I recommend, in order, etc.) that~; suppose~; ~lest~; as though~; whether~, etc.
        Point is that “was is used in the singular 1st or 3rd person, indicative past tense exclusively, where were is used in 1st-3rd persons plural indicative and throughout subjunctive mood clauses wherever “to be” is called.

    • Annabeth Chase fan -  February 2, 2015 - 4:58 pm


  36. ];'\ -  January 26, 2015 - 9:57 pm


    • lou -  January 26, 2015 - 11:16 pm

      it number

  37. Peach -  January 23, 2015 - 4:04 pm

    An educative forum. Quite impressive! Please do a word fact on “Will vs Would”

    • Bryan -  February 2, 2015 - 2:24 am

      “Would” is the subjunctive form of “will,” as “should” and “could” correspond to “shall” and “can,” respectively. Subjunctive is predominantly when expressing possibility (especially in contrast with reality): “If I were president, I could showcase my diplomatic talent.” or when making a form of request or demand: “I wish that you would be nicer to me.” “You should put more salt in your soup.”

  38. Peach -  January 23, 2015 - 4:00 pm

    This forum is educative and impressive. Kindly give an analysis on the use of “Will vs Would”

    • Javvaji -  January 28, 2015 - 1:41 am

      will is about what you are going to do any time after this moment.

      Would is like you use to describe something a person used to do like ” he would go get up everyday at 5 o clock and go for a walk.

      • diamondback81 -  January 29, 2015 - 6:25 am

        While correct, that is narrow explanation of the use of the word “would.”

        Would indicates the past tense of the term “will.”

        It is also used to express the future in past sentences, used to express repeated or habitual action in the past, used to express an intention or inclination, used to express a wish, or used to express an uncertainty.

        The use of “will” indicates direct intent or declaration of an action while the use of the word “would” is a bit more flexible in its use as it has several different purposes.

      • Berris Henriques -  January 29, 2015 - 11:22 am

        ‘Would’ is also used when making a request or asking someone to take an action.

      • Catrov -  January 29, 2015 - 6:36 pm

        Would you consider this sentence an exception to your rule?

  39. Harvey Wachtel -  January 22, 2015 - 10:18 am

    Trader Joe’s, at least the one in Forest Hills (bless its collective soul) has a “fewer than 12 items” lane.

    • Tricia step -  January 22, 2015 - 11:05 am

      Sometimes it’s what you get use to. So I say change the line to say 10 items or fewer.

      So how about biggest or largest?

      • Hannah Leonard -  January 29, 2015 - 11:54 am

        Bigger is comparative: my dog is bigger than yours. Largest is superlative: his dog is the largest.

        Perhaps you meant to ask the difference in usage between “big” and “large”?

    • David M -  January 27, 2015 - 1:34 pm

      But at Trader Joe’s you can buy fewer items and end up with less money.

      • yayay -  February 2, 2015 - 7:10 pm

        are u talking about food, or large and big?

  40. Sammy -  January 21, 2015 - 8:48 pm

    Is this similar to the difference between ‘farther’ and ‘further’?

    • Chucknj -  January 29, 2015 - 4:10 pm

      In a sense, since “farther” implies distance, so “the car went farther.” OTOH, “he wanted to understand the engine further.”
      However, I don’t think “further/farther” is as crucial to good English (as is the fewer/less distinction).

  41. Happy Dominic Hero Mark -  January 20, 2015 - 10:40 am

    the meaning of plight

  42. Don Palmer -  January 20, 2015 - 2:46 am

    Another usage where fewer “counts:”

    From a historic perspective, there should have been fewer than one Führer.

    Don Palmer from Alabama (Portmanteau: Palalabamer)

  43. keepcalmmoveon -  January 16, 2015 - 12:06 pm

    In the event of “improper” usage of language, ask yourself this:

    “Can one interpret said “improper” language differently from the supposedly “proper” usage?”

    If the answer is “yes”, then there’s a lack of clarity and a complaint would most likely be reasonable.

    If the answer is “no”, kindly reach around a remove the stick from your butt.
    Thank you.

    I leave you with the immortal words of Stephen Fry:

    • Harvey Wachtel -  January 22, 2015 - 10:27 am

      The primary purpose of language is, of course, to communicate. But there’s an element of elegant simplicity when simple rules are followed consistently that is lost when we allow communication to be the only criterion.

      If people, say, consistently use prepositions at the ends of clauses, what’s the harm? That’s the way languages evolve. But if people make unnecessary exceptions (e.g., “normalcy” for “normality”), it muddies the language with no effective gain.

      I’d give “less than ten items” a pass in its usual informal setting, but not in formal writing or speech. The count-vs.-mass-noun distinction is a useful one worth preserving.

      • Stan petty -  January 24, 2015 - 2:01 am

        AMEN , Harvey. I would have argued the other way when in middle school. It was too difficult and time wasting to learn which is correct and proper . As in aged I began to enjoy hearing and speaking our language correctly. . Like reading a well written book..however, Harvey, we are fighting a losing battle. 5 million reasons for our loss are on their way to citizenship. As we type.

        • demelzabunny -  January 26, 2015 - 7:12 pm

          If you are referring to immigrants as your “5 million,” they deserve a pass. After all, English is NOT their native language. That is a valid excuse for such errors. No such pass ought to be afforded to native speakers, however; they have NO excuse.

          • Kaylee -  February 2, 2015 - 9:33 am

            AMEN TO U

      • Sarah -  January 26, 2015 - 1:39 am

        Thank you, Harvey. My English professor mother and I agree with your statements.

        • lou -  January 26, 2015 - 11:17 pm


        • Jashon -  February 2, 2015 - 9:02 am

          Less is better because children may have less sweet

          • jakeem -  February 5, 2015 - 5:35 am

            I did a spelling test I got 101 write and 0 wrong

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