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Less v Fewer

Sep 19, 2015 | Grammar and Writing Tips

I was listening to NPR yesterday and the guest said something that sounded off to me.  She was not a native English speaker, so I checked it out.  It would be great if I could actually remember the actual sentence she used, but let’s just say it was, “There were less college graduates this year than in other years.”

Does that sound wrong to you, too?  It is.  Less is used when you’re talking about things you cannot actually count in units.  You can count students, so it should be, “There were fewer college graduates…”

But you would say, “There was less enthusiasm for college this year,” because you can’t count units of enthusiasm, they don’t exist.  So, your colleague might do less work than you because she works fewer hours.

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