Talk:Fewer vs. less

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NPOV dispute[edit]

The article is biased, too everything that's used is correct. Let's hear the other side too (traditional grammar).

Kempt Head: I agree. The article is riddled with opinion, mostly one-sided. A better approach would be to explain both the prescriptivist and the descriptivist positions, without lengthy attempts to argue one case or the other. False rhetorical claims, such as that "fewer is hardly ever used in conversational English," should be omitted. This approach will require a nearly complete re-write of the entry. Kempt Head (talk) 01:31, 20 August 2014 (UTC)

Almost all the examples of things that "hardly any prescriptivists" care about grate on me. Yes, there absolutely are fewer cups of coffee on the table.
I think this whole article should be deleted. -- Resuna (talk) 00:19, 28 August 2014 (UTC)
I agree and have proposed it for deletion. - Metalello talk 01:43, 6 April 2015 (UTC)
I agree. In my opinion, most of this article's assertions are simply WRONG; however, it is not my intent to argue the grammatical issues, at this time. Unless there is a more balanced article (i.e. less biased and with fewer errors) immediately available to replace it, this one should certainly be deleted -- lest some incompetent writers try to cite Wikipedia in order to defend their own lack of communication skills.Tripodics (talk) 16:03, 11 April 2015 (UTC)
Support removing unsourced WP:NPOV/WP:OR problems from the article, but strongly opposed to removing linguistic description and inserting prescriptive grammar, which is subjective, Victorian, and unscientific. It's fine to document what the prescriptivists say, it is not okay to remove mainstream linguistics material or elevate prescriptive punditry above it.  — SMcCandlish ¢ ≽ʌⱷ҅ʌ≼  17:03, 31 December 2015 (UTC)
Agree with those who say the article is rubbish. "Less" is an adverb, "fewer" is an adjective - that's all. Anyone who suggests there's no importantly difference is starkly staringly madly.Tirailleur (talk) 13:07, 24 August 2016 (UTC)

Less and ambiguity[edit]

Happy to! I'm sure to embarrass myself with an obvious typo or grammatical error, but here goes: I'm no grammarian but it seems as though it leads to a lack of clarity and potential confusion. Take the phrase "I have less useful books". If "less" can be taken to mean both "less" and "fewer", then the phrase has two meanings. It means both "I have not got as many books, which are useful, as someone else" and "The books which I have are less useful than something else".

If fewer is generally used according to traditional grammatical notions of what is correct, by contrast, we can differentiate between the two.

This might be a trivial confusion, but I'm sure there are more substantial confusions that can be derived from the underlying issue.

I hope I'm being clear! I do like using the term 'fewer'. (talk) 10:54, 6 January 2012 (UTC)

It's true that there are many possible semantic ambiguities arising out of the usage of the word "less" to mean "fewer;" language is full of syntactical ambiguity. We correct for this by providing context.

Q: Are these all the books you have? A: Well, these are the only useful ones. I have less useful books, but you're probably not interested in those.

Q: Most of these books don't seem very useful. A: It's true, I have less useful books on the subject than most aficionados would.

Zuky79 (talk) 09:19, 22 April 2012 (UTC)

Language is ambiguous. One of the ways this ambiguity is managed is by redundancy - variants of words with slightly different meanings are useful. Thus the distinction between "less" and "fewer" (and the corresponding distiction between "more" and "greater") is useful. Is it necessary? No. Most of English isn't necessary. But it would be a poorer language if it were just stripped to the bare kernel of absolutely vital words. -- Resuna (talk) 13:11, 11 September 2014 (UTC)

True, you can do that. In my opinion, this is inefficient, and can still be misinterpreted on a hasty reading. This makes it unsuitable for professional or academic applications. Where the need for additional information can be avoided, it should. (talk) 14:00, 20 September 2012 (UTC)

None of us are using traditional grammar here. How many of us are using the old case endings? How many of us are using the strong and weak forms of these adjectives as appropriate? It's a useful eighteenth-century innovation, it's not tradition. (talk) 19:23, 25 August 2012 (UTC)


"in most dialects of English, and in these environments, the word fewer is hardly used at all. " Where is the support for this? The ref. given later does give support to greater use of less in most cases using Google mass counts, but "fewer" is definitely present -- in fact in some cases much more frequently than "less."

I did a search of COCA. With no restrictions (meaning a lot of the occurrences of "less" were most likely irrelevant to a comparison, e.g., less with noncount nouns), the stats were:
fewer 21,245 (This is hardly hardly to my mind)
less 166,273.

Excluding spoken data, the stats were:
fewer 2,312
less 21,264.

fewer 3,005
less 38,202;

BNC less spoken data:
fewer 78 (This is the only value I'd accept as approaching "hardly used" -- but by contrast, "dogmatic" is used only 6 times [& 211 total in BNC]. Would we want to say that "dogmatic" is hardly ever used?)
less 2,109 (talk) 06:17, 20 January 2014 (UTC)

I strongly concur with the anon, even aside from the convincing stats. "Hardly used at all" is clearly not WP:NPOV/WP:NOR-compliant (twice over, both for "hardly" and for the redundant "at all"). Plenty of educated people are actually quite careful about this. I've even noticed that grocery stores, which are notorious for "Express Lane – 12 Items or Less" strongly tend toward the proper "Fewer" when they are upscale, and have (on average) better-educated customers and employees.  — SMcCandlish ¢ ≽ʌⱷ҅ʌ≼  16:56, 31 December 2015 (UTC)

“Fewer” for Countable Quantities, “Less” for Uncountable or Continuous Measure[edit]

Cups of coffee on a table and cups of coffee in an urn are different cases. If we assume that we are talking about cups as in “cups and saucers,” i.e., tableware, that in normal understanding come in integral (countable) numbers, one can have “fewer” or more cups on the table, not “less.” Cups that are assumed to be measures of continuous amounts (never mind the molecular level) come in quantities that are “less” or “more.” It is not logical to say that the continuous number 3.5 is “fewer” than 4, it is less, so urn A holding 3.5 cups contains less than urn B, with 4. On the other hand, it may sound wrong to say that there are less cups of coffee in A than in B, because we associate “cups” with an integral number. I suppose it would be no sin to say there are fewer cups in A than in B. But I would recommend one say that the amount of coffee in urn A is less than the amount in urn B, or “there is less coffee in A than in B.” In writing, my main goal is to minimize ambiguity and use the fewest number of words. Just my two cents which may be less than your sense. Sjzaslaw (talk) 18:03, 22 April 2014 (UTC)Sjzaslaw (talk) 18:04, 22 April 2014 (UTC)

I agree with the last comment, with how it dealt with the subject matter and with what the goal of usage in writing should be. Clarity and avoiding of ambiguity should be paramount. But I want to mention that The Cambridge Guide to English Usage itself contains some acceptance of bad grammar, for example, in this quoted phrase: " '... it may provide in noun phrases like less promising results' ", which in the minds of those at the Guide poses an ambiguity. The problem they pose can be solved by the so-called "prescriptive grammar" if in one of the possible meanings the correct grammar is used. In that meaning, "... it may provide in noun phrases such as less-promising results, is talking about results which are less promising, not "fewer possible results", to express which using "less possible results" is simply bad grammar, according to prescriptive grammar. "The case could be made that 'less' is used as an adverb here; however, when 'less' and 'more' are used to indicate the comparative form of the adjectival expression, a comma is regularly used when the whole phrase modifies a noun, unless it is used predicatively, for instance at the end of a clause, e.g., "... results that are less promising." Furthermore, 'like', as a preposition, takes an object that is something different from the subject, e.g. "Socrates is a man like any other." 'Like' is used in their phrase to refer to a certain noun phrase which is within the set of all noun phrases. In this sense, it's the same as saying "any noun phrase, such as less-promising results." "This less-promising result is not like any noun phrase: it is a noun phrase. The Cambridge Guide's use there of 'like' is incorrect within formal English (which I would expect a formal guide to use). Unless the hoi poloi who use 'like' statistically more often than careful speakers (and thereby certify what the descriptive grammar should be) can give a contrary reason that is superior to that of the prescriptive rule that has served the language well, we have no more reason to adopt their usage as the recommended one than to adopt a geocentric model of the solar system as science because people commonly speak of the Sun's rising or setting (although the way we use these expressions in speech now has the force of long traditional usage). — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 23:28, 23 January 2015 (UTC)

Yeah, the Cambridge conundrum isn't really a conundrum. Most style guides would (and if you read the advice they give in sections on hyphenation, "fewer", etc., they effectively do) advise "less-promising results" vs. "fewer promising results".  — SMcCandlish ¢ ≽ʌⱷ҅ʌ≼  16:52, 31 December 2015 (UTC)

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Alternate Rule?[edit]

In reading up on this rule, I came across a blog post that proposes an alternative to the countable-vs-uncountable standard. However, I don't know how widely known or accepted it is, so I'm not sure whether (or how) to put it into the article. The source is here: [1] Polytrope (talk) 18:15, 28 December 2017 (UTC)

POV (again)[edit]

To reopen this discussion: the article's point-of-view is drastically slanted towards the descriptivist. Contrary to popular opinion, prescriptivism about usage has not been scientifically sent to its eternal rest by descriptivism (see David Foster Wallace's delightful Tense Present), and the article's brazen side-taking is not factually-based. A simple description of the prescriptivist position should suffice; a polemic is inappropriate. The same extends to descriptivism's claims. (talk) 19:51, 13 September 2018 (UTC)