It’s a question of count versus mass. If you can count how many — vacuum cleaners, apples, werewolves, quilts, etc. — it’s a countable noun. Looking at bolts of fabric at a fabric store, at bins of screws and nails at the hardware store, the clutter on top of your desk — these are all mass nouns. Mignon Fogarty at Quick and Dirty Tips also notes that mass nouns aren’t plural, as in you wouldn’t say clutters, but clutter, furniture and not furnitures.
Word Confusions started as my way of dealing with a professional frustration with properly spelled words that were out of context in manuscripts I was editing as well as books I was reviewing. It evolved into a sharing of information with y’all. I’m hoping you’ll share with us words that have been a bête noir for you from either end. Consider sharing this Word Confusion with friends by tweeting it.
|Credit to: Karen’s Linguistic Issues; Quick and Dirty Tips has some nice examples and tips to tell the difference between countable nouns (fewer) and mass nouns (less).|
|Part of Grammar:|
|Comparative form of few, which may itself be an adjective or a pronoun||Adjective; Adverb; Preposition; Pronoun; Suffix (-less)|
|Used with words denoting people or countable things||Used with mass nouns, denoting things that cannot be counted
Normally used with numbers and expressions of measurement or time
|Adjective and Pronoun:
[A few] A small number of
Used to emphasize how small a number of people or things is
[Archaic] Of lower rank or importance
Not so much
Not as much
Not as much
Grocery store signs should say: “Ten items or fewer”.
Not “Ten items or
May I ask a few questions?
He had few friends.
Sewing was one of her few pleasures.
Ask which products have the fewest complaints.
Many believe it but only a few are prepared to say.
Few thought to challenge these assumptions.
Very few of the titles have any literary merit.
We have fewer members every year.
There are fewer than ten cars left.
One of the few who survived
James the Less
You should eat less meat.
That this is a positive stereotype makes it no less a stereotype.
Mitch looked less than happy.
The data was less than ideal.
Less than two weeks before vacation!
No matter how quickly we work, we seem to accomplish less.
You’d better be ready in less than an hour.
It’s a city with a population of less than 200,000.
|Adjective, Determiner, Pronoun: few
Plural noun: the few
|History of the Word:|
|Old English fēawe and fēawa are from an Indo-European root shared by Latin paucus and Greek pauros meaning small.||Old English lǣssa, is of Germanic origin and related to Old Frisian lēssa, from an Indo-European root shared by the Greek loisthos meaning last.|
C’mon, get it out of your system, bitch, whine, moan…which words are your pet peeves?