The Difference Between Fewer and Less

Diagrams to the rescue

Rose Ernst
2 min readApr 2, 2020

Photo by K8 on Unsplash

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:

Rose Ernst/
Rose Ernst/

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:

Rose Ernst/
Rose Ernst/

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!

Rose Ernst is an academic editor and writing consultant. Former tenured professor and chair of political science. Happy fiction author. Find her at Sign up for her email list here.

Rose Ernst

Scholar, writer, editor, and autistic traveler. Autistic Traveler: Writing Sprints: