Jun 10

12 items or FEWER

Supermarket express check-outs used to have limits of “12 items” (or 10 or 8 or whatever) “or less.” It took grammar advocates years to persuade markets to change the signs to read “12 items or fewer,” which is correct. But many, many people still admit that they can’t keep less and fewer straight and don’t understand what the difference between them is.

They’re both obviously the opposite of more. Why are there two different words, and why aren’t they really interchangeable?

You can have more pie, or more cars. But while you can have less pie, you can only have fewer cars. Why? The answer is actually simple. If you can count it, you use fewer. If you can’t count it, you use less. So, as you can count cars, you would say this highway is now being used by fewer cars. But what about traffic? Traffic isn’t countable; you can’t have 10,000 traffic. You can have 10,000 cars. So fewer cars use this highway, but there is less traffic. Similarly with pie: You may eat less pie, but you would eat fewer pieces, because you can count pieces. (Or you can count pies: There are fewer pieces of pie, or fewer pies, but pie, as a substance, is not countable, and so you eat less.)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>