The Easy Explanation
By Annette Rey
I believe grammar is made too difficult to understand so risking condemnation from the wordy grammar ghouls out there, here is the shortcut to understanding when to use less and when to use fewer.
I heard a television commercial for an over-the-counter cure-all product. It said, “You will have less pain and less bills.”
Their medication effectiveness aside, their English needs a bit of help.
It should have said, “You will have less pain and fewer bills.”
Here’s the easy part –
Use less when the word you are modifying is an elusive idea – like pain – your pain and my pain are different and cannot be easily compared.
Use fewer when the word you are modifying can be counted – like bills. Bills are concrete, tangible things. I can count your bills and my bills.
Make up some practice sentences while this clarification is still before you.
- I own fewer pets than I used to.
- She suffered less heartache with this love affair than with her last.
- Fewer people showed up for the rally this time.
- There is less visibility with night driving.
There are other applications for these words that deserve further investigation.