Confusing words: fewer, less

It is not only learners of English who confuse less and fewer – some native speakers also frequently use them incorrectly.

But less and fewer are not actually so difficult to use correctly: less means ‘a lower amount’, while fewer expresses ‘a lower number’. In other words:

  • fewer and less are both the opposite of more;
  • we use fewer with countable nouns;
  • we use less with uncountable nouns.

Let’s look at some examples:

  • I’ve got less time than I had last year. (time = uncountable noun)
  • He’s got less money than his wife. (money = uncountable noun)
  • Low-fat milk has fewer calories than full-fat. (calories = countable noun)
  • The government built fewer houses last year. (houses = countable noun)

Easy-to-remember tip

If thinking about countable and uncountable nouns is a bit too technical for you, here’s an easy way to remember how to get less and fewer right: Use fewer when the noun is plural (e.g.doors, dogs, people, mistakes, days, etc.) and you will always be correct.

Be careful with money!

Learners can have a problem when speaking about amounts of money. The problem is that, in English, we see $50 as a single sum or amount, not as fifty separate dollars. We therefore say less than $50, NOT fewer than $50.

This same rule applies to distances:

  • He lives less than 10 miles away.
  • He lives fewer than 10 miles away.

Smoke, eat and drink less!

We use less to speak about activities when we don’t use a noun:

  • They eat fewer vegetables. BUT …
  • You’re fat – you should eat less!
  • He smokes fewer cigarettes than before. BUT …
  • He smokes less than before.
  • You should exercise more and eat less.

Now, here’s a quick quiz for you to test yourself on fewer and less.


questionsscoregoes here


If you found this article helpful, please share it with friends and click the ‘Like’ and ‘G+’ buttons below. Feel free to ask a question or leave a comment. Thanks!

Stuart is an English teacher and runs the Speakspeak website. He currently lives in Prague and has been teaching for over 20 years. See all posts by Stuart

8 Comments

  1. Tey - September 17, 2012, 5:20 pm Reply

    You’ve got a very helpful site. Thank you so much for sharing your expertise on the matter. 🙂

  2. Alexei - February 26, 2013, 4:14 pm Reply

    Thanks

  3. Jose - June 29, 2013, 6:01 pm Reply

    Thanks

  4. Phuong - October 13, 2013, 4:38 pm Reply

    I need this information for my homeworks, thank you so much 🙂

  5. mahes - January 11, 2014, 5:13 am Reply

    thanks, cook.

  6. Artur - October 2, 2014, 12:31 pm Reply

    Really, it’s a very good test. Thanks.

  7. Hla Moe - January 8, 2017, 5:58 am Reply

    Can we write like the srntence below?
    My mother does not drive less carefully than my father.
    Please reply.

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