Should I Use “Fewer” or “Less?”
It is not a very common mistake for a person to use the word fewer when they mean to use less. Most people are naturally inclined to avoid using a phrase such as, “Could I have a little fewer milk?” People do tend to make mistakes the other way around, though. For instance, many people would not realize they were misspeaking if they were to say, “Compared to other shops I’ve been to, his had less 60s records but more 80s ones.”
If you yourself are wondering what is wrong with this phrase, here is an explanation: Fewer should be used when the noun being referred to is a countable noun, and less should be used when the noun is not countable. (The distinction between these two kinds of nouns is not perfectly simple; an article dedicated to this topic will be written in the future).
In the example given above, less in incorrect because records are countable. Thus, the speaker should have said, “. . . his had fewer 60s records . . .” Less would have been correct if the speaker had instead said “. . . his had less 60s music . . .” since music is not countable.
Jake Magnum, author of the Magnum Proofreading Blog, is dedicated to helping writers perfect their work. In addition to giving free advice on his blog, Jake helps writers by offering very affordable proofreading services at magnumproofreading.com.