Revised as of 17 February 2018
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, which reliably indicates if there are fewer.
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 (and you can see if it’s less of a mess than usual, *grin*)— these are all mass (or uncountable) 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.
…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.
|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|
|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
If you’d ask fewer questions…
He had fewer friends than Mabel.
Ask which products have fewer complaints.
Many believe it but only fewer are prepared to say.
Fewer thought to challenge these assumptions.
Fewer of the titles released these days have any literary merit.
We have fewer members every year.
There are fewer than ten cars left.
Sadly, even fewer survived.
James the Less wasn’t much of a king.
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?