Less and Fewer (Notes)

(Grammar Practice Worksheet.)

Both of these words ‘less’ and ‘fewer’ refer to an amount or number that is small in comparison with another amount or number that is understood from the context or the sentence.

These two words are often mixed up by learners and by some native speakers as well!

We use less with uncountable nouns. Like this:

  • He has less money than me but he spends it more wisely. (Note that pennies, and pounds are countable but that the noun money is not; we cannot say one money, two money and so on.)
  • She has less beauty than her sister but more intelligence.
  • I bought less milk this week because we have still got some left over.
  • She’s doing really well now and needs less support from us.

We also use less to modify adjectives and adverbs in a comparative sense. For instance:

  • This book is less expensive than that one.
  • She may be less beautiful than her sister but she is more intelligent.
  • My broken arm is less painful now.
  • His mother told him to eat less quickly to avoid indigestion.

We use fewer with countable nouns. Like this:

  • He has fewer friends now and I really worry about that.
  • Fewer houses have electric heating these days.
  • Compared with last week, fewer members of the committee turned up.
  • Tyres are well designed these days and there are fewer punctures.

Some people get a little confused about what is a countable noun. As we noted above, the word money is uncountable, but there are many more uncountable nouns that can confuse learners. These sentences are incorrect.

  • (!) There is fewer grass in the fields this year.
  • (!) We have fewer equipment for the expedition this year.

Learners and also native speakers regularly misuse these two words. People often use less when they should use fewer; the following sentences are incorrect.

  • (!) There were less people at the meeting this year.
  • (!) We have sold less homes this year because of the higher interest rates.
  • (!) My Toyota car needs less repairs than my old Rover.

Other cases

In expressions about money and time, mathematical expressions of quantity and subjects such as computer programming, it is usual to use “less than” with count numbers. For example:

  • My new camera cost less than $500.
  • They waited for less than three hours for the flight to arrive.
  • If x is less than 4 then …
  • The car was travelling at less than 30 miles per hour.
  • Your cabin baggage must weigh less than 10 kg.

Often this is because we are referring to the magnitude of the measured quantity (eg 3 hours, 30 mph, 25kg) rather than a count of individual units.

Can you correct these sentences?

  1. Less/Fewer whales are found in the Arctic waters these days.
  2. We have more space in the house now because we have less/fewer furniture.
  3. There are less/fewer crew members wanting to stop off in Nairobi these days.
  4. There are less/fewer policemen in the city nowadays.
  5. We have less/fewer sheep on our farm nowadays.
  6. There are less/fewer cyclists on the roads because it’s too dangerous.
  7. Less/Fewer people nowadays smoke cigarettes.
  8. Nowadays less/fewer diseases are untreatable than a hundred years ago.
  9. There is less/fewer disease in the north than in the south.
  10. She tried to make less/fewer mistakes with her homework.
  11. There is less/fewer crime in my town and less/fewer crimes involve guns.
  12. There is less/fewer work available and less/fewer jobs are advertised.

Use less or fewer to complete these sentences.

  1. He decided to buy …… items in the market this week because they were heavy.
  2. This course is far …… interesting this term than last year.
  3. As his money was wasted on gambling, he found he had …… and …… friends.
  4. It’s …… true today but some men still beat their wives.
  5. This road is …… dangerous than that one.
  6. She is far …… optimistic than she was last year.
  7. He’s …… disappointed than I thought he would be.
  8. Sale! Buy now while they are …… expensive!
  9. There are far …… types of fruit available in the shops nowadays.
  10. It’s difficult, but much …… difficult than the test we did last term.
  11. Losing your wallet is …… of a disaster if you are near home.
  12. You should walk …… hurriedly.