We’ve seen it in the grocery store: “10 items or less.”
Unfortunately, this infamous sign has led us all astray in confusing the meaning of “fewer” and “less.” Shall we rectify this situation?
According to Cambridge Dictionary, “the quantifiers less and fewer . . . talk about quantities, amounts and degree. Less and fewer are comparative words. Less is the comparative form of little. Fewer is the comparative form of few.” The basic rule is that few is used with countable items, while less is used with uncountable items.
Here are two examples of few:
We tend to use few less (!) than less, which has become a catchall for both terms. But now you know better!
Here are two examples of less:
As you can see, less is a comparative term unattached to specific numbers. It can also express a preference (e.g., the cat enjoys cheese less than milk). Happy writing!