Fewer and Less

First a quick note; did you find the NY Times Sunday crossword just way too easy today? I think the theme clues really set up the puzzle to be done in about a half an hour or less. Interestingly, the word, “interstice,” was in the puzzle today. Because it was the one of the words for the day this week, I remembered what it meant. Yay!

The other day, Sarah and I were discussing the usage of certain words and how we tend to modify our sentences to avoid using them altogether. Words like “lie” and “lay,” and “further” and “farther.” My friend Sophie, who was an English teacher, has a good rule for lay and lie but I can’t remember what it is. Hopefully, she will write in with it. So I thought I’d start with something a little easier.

Have you ever been in a grocery store line and the sign says, “Ten items or less?” Here’s the correct usage for less and fewer.

The traditional rule holds that fewer should be used for things that can be counted (fewer than four players), while less should be used with mass terms for things of measurable extent (less paper; less than a gallon of paint).

So the sign in the grocery store should say, “Ten items or fewer.”

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