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Friday, September 5, 2008

Criminal Sentence 87: Less vs Fewer

From something I edited recently:

"Choosing less than three or four is nearly impossible."

We all say such things, but they're grammatically incorrect. In this case we should say "fewer" because the items are countable. You use "less" when you're talking about uncountable items such as sugar: "This container has less sugar than that one."

Have you ever noticed the sign at the grocery checkout? It says something like "10 Items or Less." It technically should be "10 Items or Fewer." I know that sounds weird, but it's correct.

I don't expect any grocery store managers to change their signs. I only wish to spread grammatical wisdom throughout the land.

4 comments:

jenifer said...

At least one grocery story has changed their signs. UK grocer Tesco is changing from "Ten Items or Less" to "Up to Ten Items" because of grammar lobbyists.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/2659948/Tesco-to-ditch-ten-items-or-less-sign-after-good-grammar-campaign.html

The Sentence Sleuth said...

Good for Tesco!

Anthony said...

This is another battle against convention. The TNT network always reminds us that it has
"less comercials."

Anonymous said...

Hmm...My grocery store's signs have always read "10 items or fewer" since the store opened back in '01. I wonder if a grammar "enthusiast" insisted upon it.

The other grocery around here uses the standard "or less" form, but they have a bigger problem: one sign for the express lanes declares "15 items or less", while another allows "25 items or less" for the same lanes.