Snap Language

Getting Smarter through Language

Less and Fewer | Grammar

  Email this page

Advanced Level

You may have seen the sign for the express lane at the grocery store that says “15 items or less.” Many people get angry about it because, according to them, it should say “15 items or fewer.” What’s going on?

Comparatives and Superlatives

Much and many are used with count and non-count nouns (e.g., much time but many hours). Their comparative and superlative forms are

much - more - the most

many - more - the most

(A) little and (a) few are also used with count and non-count nouns (e.g., little time but a few hours). Their comparative and superlative forms are

little - less - the least

few - fewer - the fewest

What’s the Problem?

The problem is that language changes over time. There was a time when less and the least were also used as the comparative and superlative forms of few. For whatever reason, some grammarians decided that, because fewer and fewest also existed, it would be preferable to use fewer and fewest to keep the table “neat” (i.e., without alternate forms for few).

People took this suggestion as a steadfast rule. Now, there are still many people who will live by it and “correct” anyone who says something such as “15 items or less (items).” After all, “items” is a countable noun, so it should be “fewer items.”

Video Activity

Activity 1: Watch What is Grammar? (for a linguist) on YouTube and take good study notes.

Practice

Based on this lesson and the video, type the plural form of the word in parentheses to complete the blanks in each sentence below using fewer, fewest, less, or least. Use the “standard grammar” rules.

When you are finished, click “Answer.”

Note. Your answers will not be submitted. When you leave this page, they will be deleted.

1. Studying hard paid off. Among all students in my class, I made the mistakes on the exam.

fewest

2. John spent time on the exam than I did, but I made mistakes than he did.

less

fewer

3. We had much days below freezing this year than ever did in recorded history. We also had rainy days.

fewer

fewer

4. Althought he final exam was harder than the midterm, we had time to complete it. We had than two hours!

less

less (for an explanation, watch the accompanying video).

5. I can’t buy enough food for than $200. I remember when I used to feed the whole family for a week on much .

less

less

Watch the accompanying video for an explanation.

6. To lose weight, Patrick decided to eat candy and drink sugary drinks.

less.

fewer

7. The company made profits this year because people needed the products it sold.

fewer

fewer

8. Although the professor expected students to write a longer essay at the end of the semester, she gave them time to complete it.

less

Back to Advanced Catalog