Fewer/Less

What’s the difference between fewer and less?

What’s the difference between fewer and less? Even some native speakers can’t answer this question, but the answer is pretty simple. Fewer and less are the comparative forms of few and little; we use fewer with plural countable nouns, and less with uncountable nouns. Read on for a detailed explanation of the rules—and the exceptions!—you need to know when using fewer and less in English grammar. Once you’ve finished reading, put your knowledge to the test in the free interactive exercises.

Example

Fewer people write letters these days because they have less time than they used to.

When you can write an email in less than five minutes, why bother writing a letter?

I think I’ve received fewer than ten letters in my entire life!

The Rules

We use fewer and less to compare things. They are the comparative forms of few and little and the therefore follow the same rules.

Example:
Fewer people write letters these days.
Example:
People have less time than they used to.
Example:
I try to spend less of my time on the computer.
  • use less/few without a noun when the meaning is clear
Example:
Some people write letters, but fewer than before.

The Exceptions

Sometimes with measurements and numbers we use less even though the nouns are countable.

  • use less with numerals (1, 2, 3 etc.), or when individual items are seen as a whole unit
Example:
A text message usually has less than 160 characters.
You can write an email in less than five minutes.
  • use fewer to stress individual items
Example:
This year I received fewer than ten letters.

Informal Speech

Although it is considered grammatically incorrect, many native speakers use less with both countable and uncountable nouns in informal speech.

Example:
People write less letters than they used to.
This year I got less than ten letters.