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Word Usage: Less or Fewer?

Writers often wonder whether they should use the adjective less or fewer to compare two amounts.

The words less and fewer refer to things that are being compared in quantity or number. The correct word to use in a given situation depends on whether those things can be counted.

This word usage tip takes a look at the correct use of this troublesome word pair.


Less is a comparison of quantity or size, that is, things that cannot be counted individually.

less (adjective): the comparative of little

The patient reported drinking less water this week than she had the week before.

Fewer is a comparison of numbers or units, that is, things that can be counted individually.

fewer (adjective): the comparative of few

The patient reported drinking fewer glasses of water this week than she had the week before.

Quick Tips: Less vs Fewer

Speedy pencil: quick grammar tips

  1. Use less for singular, non-countable nouns (e.g., less water, less mass).

  2. Use fewer for plural, countable nouns (e.g., fewer glasses, fewer data).


Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary. 11th ed. Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, Inc.; 2007.

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The Power in a Word

The difference between the almost-right word & the right word is really a large difference – it's the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.

~Mark Twain, 1888

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