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Fewer or less than

Fewer or less than

Fewer or less than

(OP)

Is there a useful rule to remember when to use these modifying expressions ?  

RE: Fewer or less than

In general, if it is something quantifiable use fewer.  If it is something abstract use less.

"I had fewer than 10 items in my cart, so I used the express lane."

" I have less money than Warren Buffet, so I bought a Honda."

RE: Fewer or less than

Quantifiable in bite-size chunks, not continuous.

- Steve

RE: Fewer or less than

MintJulep is correct.
Fewer refers to numbers.  Less refers to amounts.
Any confusion likely relates to the fact that some discrete entities become continuous to our perception.
Warren Buffet has a discrete amount of money, but it's so much that it appears continuous to us.
A better example could be a glass that holds less water than another glass.  This would always be the usage even though water could conceivably be regarded as made up of discrete molecules.
The difference is that water molecules are essentially uncountable beyond a very broad estimate.
Warren Buffet's money can be counted accurately, even though it would take a long time and many accountants.

RE: Fewer or less than

I will argue that money - being an abstract concept - should always be quantified with less rather than fewer.

"I have both fewer thousand-dollar bills and less money than Mr. Buffet."

 

RE: Fewer or less than

Good point MintJulep.  I never thought of the abstract concept issue.  Good example too.

RE: Fewer or less than

It's not really "abstract".  Water, for example, is not abstract.  It's more like what SomptingGuy said--quantifiable in chunks vs. continuous.  The linguistic terms are "mass noun" and "count noun", and the distinction is not always based on common sense.  "Furniture", for example, is a mass noun.  You don't have fewer furnitures, you have less furniture.  Or fewer pieces of furniture, because "piece" is a count noun.

However, in colloquial English, "less" is becoming acceptable for use with count nouns as well.

Hg

Eng-Tips policies:  FAQ731-376: Eng-Tips.com Forum Policies

RE: Fewer or less than

You guys are smart for engineers.

RE: Fewer or less than

(OP)

Thanks to all participants.

RE: Fewer or less than

All being said, Ten Items or Less is the most obvious glaring misuse of the word 'less' where 'fewer' would be more correct.

drawn to design, designed to draw

RE: Fewer or less than

I very recently accused a colleague of having "less reservations" when it came to criticism.  He replied, correcting me that it should have been "fewer reservations".  The only possibly reply was to correct him back: "no reservations".

So, quite a topical discussion for me.

- Steve

RE: Fewer or less than

FEWER is "digital" 10 or 11

LESS THAN is "analog" ie: 10.1

RE: Fewer or less than

No.  10 is fewer than 11 if I am taking about two quantities, but 10 is less than 11 if I am talking about the numbers.

10 apples if fewer than 11 apples, but the number 10 is less than the number 11.

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