Phew!

“There are less people here today than yesterday.”

It’s fewer, people! Fewer people!*

It’s an easy rule. I think you can handle it, my friends. If you’re talking about a bunch of things (multiple objects), you use fewer, fewest. Example: “I’ll order fewer pancakes next time.” If you say “less pancakes,” sorry, but I may think less of you.

If you’re talking about a single thing that is measurable, you use less, least. Example: “There was less pancake batter than I expected.”

So, you don’t say, “The Cubs scored less runs today.” You don’t say, “Zoe has less pennies in her piggy bank,” even though she has less money because of it.

Don’t be confused by the fact that you use more in both cases for the opposite situation: more batter, more pennies. You lucked out: one word fits all. Be happy about that. But don’t start using a single word in our original situation, when you really should be making a choice between the right one and the wrong one. Maybe if we are not lazy in our word choice, there is a better chance we will not be sloppy in our thinking.

To sum up: if something is countable and you remove some items, you have fewer. If something is measurable and you take away some of it, you have less.

Now go forth and use the damn words properly. It will make Stannis Baratheon happy (or, should we say, less miserable).

__________

*Notice the comma in the first sentence? And the lack of comma in the second? See the difference in what I’m saying? No? Well, that’s another thing that is almost universally absent nowadays: the comma of direct address. I challenge you to find three people who know what that is. You see its absence all the time: “Hi Mama!” Goodbye, sweet comma-modulated clarity and grace.

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One Comment

  1. Noah Webster
    Posted August 7, 2017 at 10:24 pm | Permalink

    A similarly misused word: amount, as in, “The amount of people who say something like this is astounding.”

    Is this something new, or has it been going on for years without my noticing?

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  • Proverbs for Paranoids, 3: If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don't have to worry about answers.
    Gravity’s Rainbow

    ‘Is it about a bicycle?’ he asked.
    The Third Policeman