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Less Versus Fewer

You may have heard the traditional "countable" rule about less versus fewer, but there's also a better rule you may not have heard that covers some of the exceptions to the traditional rule.

By
Mignon Fogarty,
Episode #453
Less versus Fewer

One Less Complaint

Using the “singular or plural” rule also explains another “exception.” People often think phrases such as one less banana are wrong because you can count bananas, but one less banana is correct because it is singular and you use less with singular nouns. 

One less banana and similar phrases put you in a tricky situation because they are correct, but many people think they are wrong. For example, I got grammar-related complaints after Gardasil launched its “one less person affected with HPV” ads because many people thought it was grammatically incorrect. Therefore, I recommend avoiding the construction whenever possible. It’s better to rewrite your sentence than to have people think you’ve made a mistake or to knowingly use the wrong word by writing one fewer X. You really can’t win whether you write one less banana or one fewer banana. So rewrite. Instead of telling your caterer We need one less banana in the fruit bowl, avoid the controversial sentence by asking her to Take one banana out of the fruit bowl

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About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of the Quick and Dirty Tips network and creator of Grammar Girl, which has been named one of Writer's Digest's 101 best websites for writers multiple times. The Grammar Girl podcast has also won Best Education Podcast multiple times in the Podcast Awards, and Mignon is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame. Mignon is the author of the New York Times best-seller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing" and six other books on writing. She has appeared as a guest on the "Oprah Winfrey Show" and the "Today Show" and has been featured in the New York Times, Business Week, the Washington Post, USA Today, CNN.com, and more. She was previously the chair of media entrepreneurship in the Reynolds School of Journalism in Reno, NV. She hates the phrase "grammar nazi" and loves the word "kerfuffle." She has a B.A. in English from the University of Washington in Seattle and an M.S. in biology from Stanford University. Mignon believes that learning is fun, and the vast rules of grammar are wonderful fodder for lifelong study. 

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