‘Fewer and less’ or ‘fewer than and less than’ are often confused, probably because they give the same sense of ‘something opposite to more or more than’ to the reader, speaker or the listener.
Fewer vs Less
Fewer and less are differentiated on the basis of countability and uncountability of nouns.
For countable nouns, we use fewer and we use less for uncountable nouns.
1. There are fewer glasses of milk left.
2. There is less milk in the glass.
3. He bought fewer than 15 items of stationery.
4. We have less than 15 minutes left.
Here, glass is countable while milk is uncountable.
A simple way to check countability is, try to convert the noun in plural form. If the plural noun thus formed doesn’t make any sense, that means the noun is uncountable. As in the above examples, the word ‘milks’ sounds absurd, hence uncountable. Thus, ‘less’ is used with milk.
Situations Where ‘Fewer’ and ‘Less’ are Often Confused
Although ‘money’ is a countable noun ‘less’ is used with money because it is easy to think of ‘Money’ as bulk rather than a unit.
You have less money than me.
- Similarly, with ‘Weight’ less is used instead of fewer.
Weight is a countable noun, but we use less when referring to it in a sentence.
My weight is less than 60 Kg.
- In percentage we have to decide whether the percentage of the given quantity is countable or not; accordingly, we use less or fewer.