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Fewer or less

Fewer cars were sold during the coronavirus crisis.

The word 'less' has become so ubiquitous that one might think that the word 'fewer' has become obsolete. This could not be farther from the truth. The fact is that many writers (even those who really should know better) are using the word 'less' when they should be using 'fewer' because they do not know (or have forgotten) the difference between these two words.

The confusion might arise because the opposite of these two words is the same: 'more'.

People consume more cold drinks in the summer months.

People spend more time at the beach in the summer months.

The sentences above both use the word 'more'. However, the nouns which 'more' is modifying in those sentences are of a different type. 'Drinks' are countable (e.g. 10 drinks) while 'time' is uncountable. This means that, if we want to speak in the negative about the same topics, we cannot use 'less' for both. You should use 'less' (e.g. less time) for uncountable nouns and 'fewer' for countable ones (e.g. fewer drinks).

Here are a couple more examples:

Fewer cars were sold during the coronavirus crisis.

Less petrol was sold during the coronavirus crisis.

Cars are countable. Petrol is uncountable. It's a very simple rule that is easy to remember so there is no need to make this mistake ever again.

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