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12/08/00: When Less Is Better

Which of the following sentences are correct?

1. Less people attended this morning’s meeting than we had expected.
2. The committee’s report contains less pages than the one from last year.
3. The new potato chips are less filling because they have fewer calories than the older kind.
4. My glass has less water in it than yours.

ANSWER:  The last two sentences correctly employ the words “less” and “fewer.”  Just remember to use “fewer” whenever you are describing anything that can be counted.

We should say “fewer people” in the first example and “fewer pages” in the second because we can count people and pages.  The use of “less” in the third and fourth sentences is correct because “filling” and “water” are not things that can be counted. On the other hand, we should say “fewer calories” because calories can indeed be counted.

Notice how often grocery items announce on their packages that they have “less calories.”  These products should announce instead that they have “fewer calories” (although they might aptly add that as a result of having fewer calories, they very often have less taste).

TEST YOURSELF: Which word--“less” or “fewer”--is correct in front of these words?

1. ______ mistakes on the test
2. ______ deductions on his tax return
3. ______ room for error
4. ______ cause for alarm
5. ______ causes for the accident
6. ______ money
7. ______ dollars


1. fewer mistakes on the test
2. fewer deductions on his tax return
3. less room for error
4. less cause for alarm
5. fewer causes for the accident
6. less money
7. fewer dollars

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