'I'm always looking for the Hows and the Whys and the Whats,' said Muskrat, 'That is why I speak as I do. You've heard of Muskrat's Much-in-Little, of course?'
'No,' said the child. 'What is it?'
- The Mouse and his Child. Russell Hoban.

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Thursday, 17 May 2012

Fewer Words, Less Writing

I have a pet hate.  It's when people say or write 'less' when it should be 'fewer'.
Just now a chap on Radio New Zealand National was being interviewed as to the correct way to read to pre-schoolers.  I would have thought he'd be well-versed in grammar, but no.  To cater for 3 and 4 year-olds' small attention span (taken as a 'given' - but that's another rant of mine), one of his suggestions was to 'read less words to them'.   Augghhhh!

How hard is this?  Can it be counted?  If it has an 's' or it's plural, it's 'fewer'.
If it is stuff that can't be counted, it's 'less'.

Fewer raindrops. Less rain.
Fewer bees. Less fruit.
Fewer teachers.  Less money.*
Fewer plants and animals.  Less biodiversity.
Fewer sweeties.  Less candy and less money required for dentist bills.
Fewer weeks left before exhibition.  Less time in which to paint.


  1. My pet hate is number vs. amount......again, how hard is it!?!

  2. James17.5.12

    12 items or less?

  3. Hello Bugsy. Yep, that one too.

    Hi James. It should be twelve itemS or fewer ('... than twelve items' is implied).

  4. Fewer citizens in Blogland, less joy in my heart
    Fewer footprints on the beach, less English spoken
    Fewer kiwi jokes ,less laughter in the social club
    Fewer sarongs on the washing line, less hope for me.

  5. Ah! ...the joy of trivia.

  6. My pet hate is when people can't tell the difference between "too" and "to" - e.g. "Plastic isn’t to fantastic when it comes to tripods." GRRRRRR

  7. Yes A Fox. And what the confusion between 'your' and 'you're', 'there' and they're', and the incorrect use or lack of apostrophe. As in 'avocado's for sale' or 'the man's plastic broken tripod'

  8. One of the lady newsreaders recently (but I can't recall whether it was in NZ or UK) corrected herself in the middle of a news item when she said less and should have said fewer. I was very impressed. As a former member of the Campaign Against The Split Infinitive (disbanded because it was fighting a lost cause) i worry fewer than I used to about these things. See. Fewer/less: it's easy when you know the rules.