Fewer and Less – A Rant

I am not a member of the grammar police like some poets I know. I do not fuss about mispronunciation of words, either, because I know that I have read more words than I have heard or spoken. I am, however, appalled by the inability of professional writers to use the words fewer and less correctly.

It is not difficult. You can count fewer items; you cannot precisely measure less of it. Is that too much math for writers? Perhaps.

Here are some recent examples. An anti-wrinkle cream advertises it will ensure “less wrinkles.” No, the cream will lead to fewer wrinkles…because wrinkles can be counted. Even if there is a crow’s nest of wrinkles, they can, at least theoretically, be counted.

During the 2010 race for governor, a supporter of one of the candidates (not mine) advertized that a win for the opponent would result in fewer taxes. No, that particular win would have resulted in less tax in the future. If, by voting for certain candidates, I will pay a higher tax rate, then I will have fewer dollars in my bank account. Or, I might have less money. But for sure I will not have fewer taxes.

Taxes are like weight: there is a lot of it all mushed together and uncountable. However, you might weigh less because you ate fewer calories. Calories being countable, of course.

Today I read an article in The New Yorker by a Harvard professor in which he states that, “Columbia, Yale, and Stanford admitted less than eight per cent of their applicants.” By now, you must see his error: you can count Ivy League applicants, so the correct term is fewer than eight per cent.

I know that reasonable people might disagree and suggest that less is acceptable in some cases, even countable ones, such as “less than 100 miles.”  Thus, the professor’s “less than eight per cent” might be at least ideomatic.  But the correct use of fewer and less is my particular pet peeve, so in the future I want to see less misuse and fewer bad examples!



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: