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Less and Fewer | Grammar

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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

Much and many are used with count and non-count nouns, respectively. For example, you say much time (non-count) but many hours (countable).

The comparative and superlative forms of much and many are

much - more - the most

many - more - the most

Little and Few

(A) little and (a) few are also used with count and non-count nouns. For example, you say little time but a few hours.

Their comparative and superlative forms are

little - less - the least

few - fewer - the fewest

What’s the Problem?

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 many who balk at using “less” for countable nouns as in “15 items or less.” Even though “15 items or fewer” sounds odd to most speakers, grammar sticklers insist that is the only grammatically acceptable form.

The Bottom Line

To be safe, whenever you are using “fewer” or “less” in a formal situation such as writing a business letter or an academic essay, choose fewer for count nouns and less for non-count nouns.

Video Activity

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


Based on this lesson and the video, type in the blank provided correct form of the word in parentheses to complete each sentence 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 mistakes on the exam.

the fewest (mistakes)

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

fewer (mistakes)

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

fewer (days)

fewer (days)

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

less (time)

less (“two hours” is a measured quantity or amount, so it is considered singular)

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 .



Watch the accompanying video for an explanation.

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

less (candy)

fewer (sugary drinks)

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

fewer (profits)

fewer (people)

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 (time)

9. Everyone worked well together, but John contributed .

the least (of all)

10. People who “work smart” get the most done with amount of effort.

the least (amount)

11. To date, than half of the students have turned in their essays.

fewer (“half of the students” is grammatically countable and plural)

12. During the hottest part of the year, you should wear clothing. The clothes you have on, the better your body can regulate its temperature.

less (clothing)

fewer (clothes)

13. You can lower your electricity bills by keeping lights on outside your house.

fewer (lights)

14. Since schools administrator started implementing the program, students have dropped out and there has been disruptive behavior in schools.

fewer (students)

less (behavior)

15. In the last 10 years, we have had snow in January and rainy days in the fall.

less (snow)

fewer (days)

16. The United States has the most tornadoes worldwide each year whereas countries in Central American and African countries have .

the fewest (tornadoes)

Congratulations! You have completed all the items.

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