“Fewer” or “Less”? “One fewer” or “One less”?


“Fewer” is used with countable nouns and refers to quantities that you can count individually. 


 “Less” is used with uncountable and mass nouns and refers to collective quantities that cannot be counted individually or for abstract characteristics that you can only measure. 


For example:

There are fewer cars on the street today due to the snow storm.

People living in countries that practice dictatorship have less freedom. 


Where there is always an exception to the rules, “less” can be idiomatically used with plural nouns where the units are numerous or aren’t being considered discretely or individually, such as distances, periods of time, sums of money, or other statistical enumerations.


For example:

The distance between our house and downtown is less than 50 miles.

It will take Mary less than 20 minutes to get dressed.

We spent less than ten dollars to set up the aquarium tank.


There are however arguments around one fewer or one less.  Some stated the usage of one less based on idiomatic use, such as one less day.  You may hear one less case or one fewer case though one less case is more commonly used by people.


Written by Elisa English

On 4/ 1/11 in Minneapolis





The New Fowler's Modern English Usage: Third edition pp294

Guide to Grammar and Style by Jack Lynch

Practical English Usage by Michael Swan

Garner’s Modern American Usage: pp351



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