SOS English: less vs. fewer

Many people confuse the adjectives “less” and “fewer,” which may cause a lot of trouble. Let’s have a look and straight out the problem so that you can use each with precision!

We use the quantifiers “less” and “fewer” to talk about quantities, amounts, and degrees. “Less” is the comparative form of the adjective “little,” while “fewer” is the comparative form of the adjective “few.”

And as adjectives, they necessarily modify nouns. 

Less (for singular, uncountable nouns)

Use “less” when you’re referring to something that can’t be counted or doesn’t have a plural (i.e., water, moneycoffee, air, information, timemusic.) It is also used with numbers when they are on their own and with measurement or time expressions. 

I’ve got less experience in customer service than my coworkers.
He makes less money with his current job than with the one he had before.
She’s trying hard to drink less coffee.

Their heated discussion lasted less than two hours.
The college is less than fifty miles away from her home.
Kids these days spent less time outside than ten years ago.

πŸ’‘ Singular, uncountable noun = less (than): Peter wants to drink less alcohol.
πŸ’‘ Amount of moneydistance, or time= less (than): Caroline paid less than 1,000$ for her new piano.

Fewer (for plural countable nouns)

Use “fewer if you’re referring to people or things in the plural (i.e., catsbooks, childrensongs, cups of coffee, glasses of water.)

The band’s new album has fewer songs on it than on the previous one.
There are currently fewer dogs at the animal shelter than last year.
As an adult now, I’ve read fewer books than I did as a child.

I’m drinking fewer glasses of water than I did last week, but I’m still trying to reach my goal.
Sophie wants to spend fewer amounts of her free time thinking about her problems at work.
The bar served fewer pints of beer than last weekend.

πŸ’‘ Plural countable nouns = fewer (than): James wants to smoke fewer cigarettes.
πŸ’‘ Counting units of uncountable nouns = fewer: James tries to drink fewer cups of coffee during the day.