Grammar Wednesday

I’m recycling topics, you guys.  If there’s an issue you want me to address, fire off an email, please.  Otherwise, you’re going to keep getting retreads:

Less vs. fewer

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This is really a question about whether one understands the difference between a count and a non-count noun; which one we have will determine the adjective we use.

A count noun is… duh… something you can count.  Remember that it’s not something you WOULD count, necessarily – snowflakes and stars are both count nouns – but they’re things you COULD count.  When you’ve got a countable noun, you would use fewer:

There were fewer fans at the football stadium once the team started their spectacular losing streak.

The new brand of oil means your car requires fewer oil changes in an average year.

A non-count noun is… duh… something you can’t count, even if you wanted to.  They’re words like money (but not dollars), rain, (but not raindrops), and furniture (but not chairs or couches; see the difference?):

The area had significantly less rain this summer than last, which means fewer trees will reach their full autumn color.

Joni makes less money than Jack, even though she does twice the work and makes fewer mistakes.

All those signs in grocery stores that direct you to the “ten items or less” registers are wrong because items is a count noun (as are groceries, and pretty much anything that you can put on a conveyor belt).  Tell them so for me.

 

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10 Comments

Filed under bad grammar, Grammar

10 responses to “Grammar Wednesday

  1. This is one of my pet peeves.

  2. Darci

    wow…love this.

  3. Rowan

    CVS stores (formerly Longs) used to have very large signs hanging from the ceiling to show what was in each aisle. I mentioned the spelling to two different managers only to be told that “Corporate” sent the signs. One of the managers did not see the problem. I finally called the corporate offices and the signs were changed. The spelling mistake? It was the sign hanging over the aisle where you could find items for: Incontinents.

  4. I think the confusion here comes from recalling “greater than” and “less than” in math class. It was NEVER “fewer than.”

  5. needsatimeout

    Wow! I never even gave it a second thought. I honestly think that I was so anxious in my elementary school years that I didn’t learn as much as I could have learned. Now when writing I often think “what would Mrs. Chili say”
    thanks for the lesson.

  6. I wanted to send a picture of an express lane which had three palms under the express sign saying “15 is this many —->,” pointing to the three hands. It saddens me.

    On another note, I thought you might like this article from Buzzfeed: http://www.buzzfeed.com/expresident/13-punctuation-marks-that-you-never-knew-existed

  7. Martin Waddell

    Hi, Mrs Chili, greetings from a Scottish pedantic guy – came across your blog a year ago through reading the blog of an old schoolmate of mine, Bob Leckridge. Like you, I find myself frequently fuming at the way in which people mangle the English language these days – Star Trek-type split infinitives, using apostrophes where they shouldn’t (“pizza’s half price” and so on) and confusing words like “less” and “fewer” as in your example. Have to say, though, that until recently I lived in Glasgow, where they have rather an individual approach to the past participle, as illustrated by the following poem (from a Glasgow writer in the 1950s called Bud Neill) –
    “Winter has came, the snow has fell.
    Wee Josie’s nose is froze as well.
    Wee Josie’s frozen nose is skintit –
    Winter’s diabolic, in’tit?”

  8. When discussing speech, we say we know something when we can repeat it “word for word.” Yet, when we speak, we do not really speak “one word at a time.” We break the flow of words into chunks. And we do not do this randomly, simply to take a breath now and then. We insert pauses to break the flow into meaningful chunks. We do not say

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