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less and fewer - the difference

The Quick Answer
Use less when referring to a single item.
Use fewer when referring to more than one item.

Fewer or Less

Writers often misuse the words less and fewer. The word less should be used for a single item (e.g., less time, less space). The word fewer should be used when there is more than one item (e.g., fewer mice, fewer omissions).

Examples:
  • There is less cheese on this plate.
  • (The word cheese is singular.)
  • There are fewer pieces of cheese on this plate.
  • (The word pieces is plural.)
  • There are less pigeons in Trafalgar Square than there used to be.
  • (should be fewer pigeons)
  • In the future, there will be less coins in circulation.
  • (should be fewer coins)
  • Fewer people will vote in the forthcoming elections.
Quick Test
Select the correct version:



 
Top Tip

Adopt the Fewer/Less Ruling

Many people consider this ruling outdated. It is certainly not well observed by some large reputable companies. For example:


less bags (fewer bags )
(Wall*Mart poster)


less napkins (fewer napkins )
(Starbucks napkin)


less emissions (fewer emissions )
(Volvo advert)

Grammar Monster advises that you play it safe and adopt the ruling. Using less incorrectly may irk your readers. Using fewer correctly will showcase your grammar skills.