Monday, March 26, 2007

Less is Neither More Nor Fewer

"Less" and "fewer" mean different things. "Less " refers to a smaller quantity of anything that can be measured by volume. "Fewer" refers to a smaller number of anything that can be counted.

So you might have less water in a reservoir, less gas in your tank, less spring in your step or less hope for future generations.

You might have fewer students in this year's English class, fewer mosquito bites on your arm, fewer chances to ski since Global Warming began to make itself manifest or fewer grammatical mistakes in this essay than the last one.

However, if you use the phrase "less people", that conjures up the idea that you have ground up the people in question, possibly in a gigantic blender, and poured some out. A truly horrific notion, as I'm sure you'll agree.


Jim said...

Hi Sarah, nice blog, I like thinking about words too, but I have to jump on this particular topic. It is not volume but the conotation of fungibility, that any one unit is equally exchangeable for another. So for example, while money is certainly not measured in volume but in a specific count, you speak correctly when you say you have less money in the bank, not fewer money.

SarahBHood said...

I love the word "fungibility". Thanks for the correction, Jim

Jim said...

oopsy, I might have used a nice word like fungibility and even spelled it right, but there I went showing my ignorance and screwed up connotation.

Ah well (Gerry B will and Stephen B would understand) that going to a French elementary school and an English high school has made me functionally illiterate both languages. Then on top of that being a computer geek who touch types, I can sometimes manage a run on sentence with as many words as my best golf score.

Martin Wilson said...

But you can have fewer dollars which is less money!