Less vs. Fewer: Difference between Fewer vs. Less (with Useful Examples)

Have you ever get confused with less vs. fewer? If you have, there’s no reason to worry because these two words can cause problems for anyone. They both are opposites of “more” but aren’t interchangeable, so you need to be very careful when you choose to use one or the other in a sentence. Thankfully, the difference between them is pretty simple.

Less vs. Fewer: Understanding the Basics

Less vs. Fewer

Key Takeaways

When we discuss the terms “less” and “fewer,” we’re addressing a common area of confusion in English language usage. Here’s a straightforward guide to help us choose the right word every time:

  • Countable Nouns: Use “fewer” when referring to items that we can count individually.
  • Uncountable Nouns: Use “less” when dealing with quantities that cannot be counted one by one.

Meanings

FEWER means “not as many”, while LESS means “not as much”. Therefore, the difference between these two words is that the first refers to countable nouns, while the second refers to uncountable ones.

Examples:

  • We must try to spend less money.
  • Women commit fewer crimes than men.

When to Use Less vs. Fewer

Look at the sentence, “John got higher grades this year because he’s spent fewer/ less hours playing computer games than before”. “Hours” is a countable noun, and this is the reason why, in this case, you should use fewer.

What about this example, “With Mary’s food in my fridge, there’s less space for me to put mine”? Here, “space” is an uncountable noun, since you can’t put an “s” at the end of it. This means that the word that fits is less.

Sometimes two sentences can have the same meaning and look almost the same, but you’ll still need to use different words in them. One example would be the following pair:

  1. I drank fewer bottles of water on Saturday than on Sunday.
  2. I drank less water on Saturday than on Sunday.

In the first sentence, you’re speaking about bottles that are countable, so you use fewer. However, in the second sentence, you’re speaking about uncountable water, so you use less.

Of course, there are exceptions that you need to be aware of. For instance, even though you can count money, you still need to use less when you’re talking about it, e.g. “I have less than a hundred dollars on my bank account”. The same applies to time and weight, e.g. “Alice has been studying Spanish for less than six months”, “This bag weighs less than two kilograms”.

Helpful Tips for Remembering

In this section, we’ll share some strategies that will help you use “less” and “fewer” correctly. Let’s make this as easy as remembering your favorite song!

Mnemonics and Tricks

  • Countability Rule: Think whether you can count the items. If you can count them, use fewer. If you can’t, use less.
    • Mnemonic: If you can count it, discount “less.”
  • F for Friends: Both “fewer” and “friends” start with the letter “F”, and you can count your friends.
    • Remember: Fewer friends, not less friends.

Fewer vs. Less Examples

Examples of “Fewer”

  • The new schedule means that employees will work fewer hours per week.
  • This year, the team has fewer players than last year.
  • By shopping during the week, you’ll find fewer people at the grocery store.
  • If you make larger payments, you’ll have fewer installments to worry about.
  • Eating fewer processed foods can lead to better health.

Examples of “Less”

  • She spent less money on her vacation than she had budgeted.
  • There is less sugar in this recipe than in the original version.
  • With less traffic, the commute to work is much quicker.
  • He has less interest in playing video games than he used to.
  • You’ll find less comfort in a chair that has less padding.

Exercise: Test Your Knowledge

Determine if “fewer” or “less” is correct.

  1. She has fewer opportunities than her brother. (True/False)
  2. There are less people here than I expected. (True/False)
  3. I need to drink less coffee in the mornings. (True/False)
  4. Fewer than twenty employees attended the workshop. (True/False)
  5. This road has less traffic at night. (True/False)
  6. He made fewer mistakes on his second attempt. (True/False)
  7. There’s less sugar in this recipe compared to the original. (True/False)
  8. Fewer cars on the road mean less pollution. (True/False)
  9. I have less books than you do. (True/False)
  10. She spent less than $100 on her groceries. (True/False)

Answers

  1. True
  2. False (Correct usage: “Fewer people”)
  3. True
  4. True
  5. True
  6. True
  7. True
  8. True
  9. False (Correct usage: “Fewer books”)
  10. True

Frequently Asked Questions

When do we use “less” instead of “fewer”?

  • Use “less” for non-countable nouns:
    • We have less water than we thought.
    • There’s less traffic today.

Can “less” ever be used with countable nouns?

  • Yes, in some cases “less” is acceptable:
    • I spent less than 50 dollars.
    • The sign at the checkout reads 10 items or less.

Which is correct – “fewer headaches” or “less headaches”?

  • “Fewer headaches” is correct since headaches are countable:
    • Since we started relaxing more, we’ve had fewer headaches.

What’s a simple tip to remember the difference?

  • For countable items, choose “fewer.”
  • For uncountable quantities, go with “less.”
  • Think of a jar of jam (uncountable) vs. slices of bread (countable):
    • We should put less jam on our toast.
    • We have fewer slices of bread available.