LESS or FEWER?

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April 12, 2013 by bradcharlesbeals

numberSimilar to the more/most error, this one is fixed by being mindful of number.

WRONG: The less mistakes we make, the quicker we’ll get it cleaned up.

RIGHT: The fewer mistakes we make, the quicker we’ll get it cleaned up.

Mistakes are countable items, so we use fewer. It’s in this direction–using less to modify countable items–that the error is more common because it just doesn’t sound all that wrong.

We don’t have a problem catching the error in the other construction: I would like fewer syrup on my pancakes, please. We know intuitively to use less with uncountable items like syrup.

Using the terms amount and number are similar.

We all know this is wrong: The number of water in my basement was shocking.

But we might make this error: I was shocked at the amount of empty cans floating in my basement. Because cans is a countable item, standard usage requires number.

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