Quick English Lesson: Less or Fewer

less or fewer


We can have more money, more problems, more friends, and more cake, but what about when we don’t have more? Do we have less, or fewer? How do you know when to use the words correctly?

When you're first learning English, it's important to brush up on the specific rules for synonyms such as this. Take a look at the rules for how to use less and fewer.



Less is used for non-countable nouns such as information, water or salt. By using less, we can talk about how much there is of something.

               > Many of us should probably eat less salt.

               > I drink less coffee than everybody else I know.



When we are talking about countable nouns, like dogs, books or candles, we use fewer. By using fewer, we can talk about how many there are of something.

               > There are fewer candles on my son’s birthday cake than on mine.

               > I buy fewer paperbacks now that I own an e-reader.

Hand-picked related content: HOW TO USE EITHER, NEITHER, OR NOR


If only it were that simple, we would all have less confusion and fewer problems when talking about quantities and amounts. When we talk about measurements of time, distance, weight and money, we use less rather than fewer:

               > It is less than six hours until my essay is due.

               > I live less than fifty miles from London.

The final exception comes when we talk about one countable item on its own, for which we use less instead of fewer:

               > If I had eaten one less cake yesterday I would have one less reason to feel guilty.

               > If you remember these exceptions, you’ll have one less thing to worry about.


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