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Thursday, October 8, 2009

Pet Peeve: Less Is More

True confession time, blog readers. This isn’t my pet peeve; it’s Hubby’s. And here’s the true confession part: It’s his peeve about me.

I’ve told you before that my grammar isn’t perfect—not in writing, and certainly not in speech. Here’s a gaffe I make so often it sets Hubby's teeth on edge:

I wish less people would mow their lawns on Sunday morning.
The gaffe isn’t, of course, with the assertion, because Sunday morning is for me a time of quiet reflection (and sometimes sleep). The problem is with the word less.

Less is an adverb relating how much. But it can only be used when referring to amounts, not numbers. In other words:
I would like less than half a glass of juice.
No, I’d like less than that, please.
Sheila’s car has less than half a tank of gas.
John has less hair than Nigel.
Because I’m speaking of volume, not number, I correctly use the word less. But in the case of the annoying lawn mowers, the word should be fewer:

I wish fewer people would mow their lawns on Sunday
I would like fewer than 3 eggs.
Fewer than fifty people attended the concert.
Nigel has fewer pimples than John.

For volume, use less. For numbers, use fewer.

Sorry, dear.


  1. Nicely explained! Thanks, Claire.

    This issue is only exacerbated by the "10 Items or Less" lane in most grocery stores. I wish I saw fewer of those "less" signs.

  2. Rob, I forgot about the "...or Less" signs. Perfect example of this peeve!