PDA

View Full Version : The difference between "less" and "few"


dbblsanta
08-20-2008, 02:31 AM
OK, on the brain burp scale this is probably a 1. But it absolutely irritates me to no end when management puts up a sign in front of Express "12 Items or Less." We don't have a permanent sign, so it's only a handwritten sign made with computer paper taped up to the light.

When I get assigned to express, if they put up a new sign, I always make a point to cross out the "Less" and replace it with "Fewer."

Today, someone comes up to my line and asks, "Did they cross out 'less' and replace it with 'fewer' because people couldn't understand it?"

Nevertheless, it gave me a bit of a chuckle.

Sparky
08-20-2008, 12:49 PM
Those "___ items or less" signs are everywhere! 90% of the population don't know the difference between "less" and "fewer," and most of the other 10% don't care. Maybe you begin to wonder if you are the only person in the world bothered by this.

No, you are not alone. :wave:

LibraryLady
08-20-2008, 05:28 PM
the fewer vs. less business has always been a pet peeve of mine. There's really no need for confusion. If what you have can be counted, 'fewer' is the way to go. If the noun is somewhat amorphous, 'less' is the word of choice.

So, you have less traffic but fewer vehicles.

or Less money but fewer coins.

Jay 2K Winger
08-20-2008, 05:45 PM
Yeah, I don't get hung up too much on simple grammatical/proper word usage issues, since even with the "___ items or less" signage, people generally figure out what it means.

It's the people who KNOW what it means, but don't care, that I want to summon The Sniper for. ("Boom. Headshot.")

J2K: "Ma'am, this is 8 items or less."
SC: "I know, but there's really long lines at the other registers, and I'm in a hurry."
J2K: That's not why we call this the 'Express' line, bitch.

crazylegs
08-20-2008, 06:49 PM
People in one store (I think it was either Waitrose or M&S) complained so much that the company changed it to 'fewer'.

Along with Flaunt/Flout and There, They're, Their it's a little peeve of mine...

hecubus
08-21-2008, 05:19 AM
This is also one of my major pet peeves. I'm sick and tired of hearing TV commercials say things like, "It will give you less pimples.", etc.

RayvenQ
08-22-2008, 12:53 PM
J2K: "Ma'am, this is 8 items or less."
SC: "I know, but there's really long lines at the other registers, and I'm in a hurry."
J2K: That's not why we call this the 'Express' line, bitch.

Those kind of people need to Meet the Sandwich (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PlwpQY-Tbls)

Boozy
08-22-2008, 01:14 PM
I've noticed that the majority of people will use "less" and "fewer" correctly in conversation. People do seem to have a natural feel for what "sounds" right.

In the case of "12 items of less", I think the problem is that the "less" appears at the end of the sentence. "Less items" sounds awful, and most people would naturally tend to say, "fewer items" without thinking about why they are doing it. But tacking "less" onto the end of that phrase gives it distance from the noun it's qualifying, so it's not as jarring.

As you may have guessed, I have also given this one much thought. :D

digilight
08-22-2008, 08:35 PM
So while acne medicine will give you "Fewer" Pimples.... will Beano give you "Fewer" Gas????

Broomjockey
08-23-2008, 12:15 AM
So while acne medicine will give you "Fewer" Pimples.... will Beano give you "Fewer" Gas????

No, since the amount of gas isn't enumerated, and isn't countable, it's "less."

Primer
08-23-2008, 12:23 AM
So while acne medicine will give you "Fewer" Pimples.... will Beano give you "Fewer" Gas????
Not necessarily, but it should give you fewer farts...

Jay 2K Winger
08-23-2008, 05:00 AM
Those kind of people need to Meet the Sandwich (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PlwpQY-Tbls)

It's Sandvich. It's Da Heavy's sammich, after all.

*Omnomnom.*

Stryker One
08-23-2008, 09:02 AM
How about, "12 items Max".

crazylegs
08-23-2008, 12:11 PM
How about, "12 items Max".

Sounds reasonable, a lot of supermarkets and shops in my local area are going with 'basket only' rather than a specific amount of items, it makes it easier on the staff trying to enforce rules etc.

Primer
08-23-2008, 08:09 PM
Sounds reasonable, a lot of supermarkets and shops in my local area are going with 'basket only' rather than a specific amount of items, it makes it easier on the staff trying to enforce rules etc.
But then you get folks that have only a very few items in their cart complaining. And before you say, "Well they should have grabbed a basket instead of a cart," think about the (little old) lady that needs the cart because she cannot carry a basket.

crazylegs
08-23-2008, 08:16 PM
But then you get folks that have only a very few items in their cart complaining. And before you say, "Well they should have grabbed a basket instead of a cart," think about the (little old) lady that needs the cart because she cannot carry a basket.

We have very shallow carts, that are essentially baskets on wheels so they'd be using those, I can't see many people objecting to that.

jedimaster91
08-25-2008, 09:37 PM
The less/fewer mix-ups bother me a heck of a lot less than people who mix up there/they're/their, you're/your, and to/two/too.

"Your stupid"
"My stupid what?"

*grammar Nazi*

Music Mo-Gal
08-29-2008, 06:05 PM
You have touched upon one of my pet peeves. I blame that beer commercial years ago that said "30% less calories than regular beer".

How about, "12 items Max".

Then sooner or later, some idiot will walk up to the register and ask who Max is and why he gets his own lane!

SpyOne
08-31-2008, 01:38 AM
It seems that English (or at least Dictionary.com) is not on your side in this one:
—Usage note Even though less has been used before plural nouns (less words; less men) since the time of King Alfred, many modern usage guides say that only fewer can be used in such contexts. Less, they say, should modify singular mass nouns (less sugar; less money) and singular abstract nouns (less honesty; less love). It should modify plural nouns only when they suggest combination into a unit, group, or aggregation: less than $50 (a sum of money); less than three miles (a unit of distance). With plural nouns specifying individuals or readily distinguishable units, the guides say that fewer is the only proper choice: fewer words; fewer men; no fewer than 31 of the 50 states.
Modern standard English practice does not reflect this distinction. When followed by than, less occurs at least as often as fewer in modifying plural nouns that are not units or groups, and the use of less in this construction is increasing in all varieties of English: less than eight million people; no less than 31 of the 50 states. When not followed by than, fewer is more frequent only in formal written English, and in this construction also the use of less is increasing: This year we have had less crimes, less accidents, and less fires than in any of the last five years.
Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1)
Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2006.
(emphasis added)

wolfie
08-31-2008, 06:03 PM
To my mind, it's simple. You're dealing with a bunch of sucky customers. You give some of them the :chipper: treatment. You have fewer sucky customers (since in this case you're dealing with individuals, or as Dilbert would say, induhviduals).

Time to feed the pigs. Afteward, you have less sucky customers (since the chipper output is a bulk commodity).