Express lane : Less than five items

Discussion in 'English Only' started by Mr.X Senior, Jun 30, 2008.

  1. Mr.X Senior Senior Member

    Singapore
    Burmese & English (2nd Language)
    It is the sign that we see at almost every super-market.

    Less is supposed to be followed by a uncountable noun. One person had explained to me that five items in the sentence was not the number or countable noun rather it was a quantity, therefore the sentence is correct.

    He gave me some more examples:
    My house is less than 3 miles from the school.
    My car get less than 10 miles per gallon.


    Could someone explain to me how the number + uncountable noun changes to quantity concept, please.
     
  2. Dimcl Senior Member

    British Columbia, Canada
    Canadian English
    Technically, they should probably all be "fewer than...". In fact, though, "less than..." is said much more often, especially in AE.

    In your initial supermarket example, five items would be considered as one group. One collection of five items (or less).
     
  3. Forero Senior Member

    Houston, Texas, USA
    USA English
    Are you studying the difference between less and fewer?

    We would say "fewer items", not "less items", but before than, either fewer or less can be used, and merchants tend to use less more than English teachers.

    Miles don't follow the same rule as items, because miles are often not actually counted but measured (e.g. 3.7 miles, plus or minus .05 miles). Thus we usually say "3 miles less from the school", not "3 fewer miles from the school".
     
  4. Mr.X Senior Senior Member

    Singapore
    Burmese & English (2nd Language)
    Dimcl, are you refering to quantity ( five items as a one group )? How did you get that since it is 5 (number) + items (countable noun).

    Forero, I am more on quantity. I read a few grammar books regarding about less with quantity and someone had explained me about it. I just can not recall it.
     
  5. una madre Senior Member

    Canada
    Western Canada English
    Forero,
    Merchants do tend to use "less than" when they should use "fewer than."

    Sorry, but I cannot make any sense of "three miles less from the school". This is not anything I would ever hear or say. Do you mean a specific building or location or venue is three miles away from the school, or three miles from the school (north, south, east or west)?

    "Three fewer miles from the school" is a relative term. The location in question is three fewer miles from the school than from what other location?
     
  6. Dimcl Senior Member

    British Columbia, Canada
    Canadian English
    Remember that when people go shopping, they usually have a basket or shopping cart in which they put their items. When they go to the "five items or less" checkout, they tend to think in terms of what they have in their one basket. In other words, they are thinking of the collective.
     
  7. Forero Senior Member

    Houston, Texas, USA
    USA English
    The issue is more whether we think of the items (or miles) being countable rather than whether the form is plural.

    "Less items" sounds odd because "items" is plural in meaning. "Less than five" is less odd because the number 5 is singular, but opinions differ on whether "five" is singular in "less/fewer than five items".

    We say a number itself is "less" than another number: "a number less than five" = a lower number than five. So, though we say "fewer than five items", we can also say "a number of items less than five", if we are thinking of the number rather than the items. I imagine that a merchant thinking in terms of quantities and numbers is more likely to use "less than five", even where a shopper may be thinking of the individual items and think "Shouldn't the sign say 'fewer than five'"?
     
  8. Forero Senior Member

    Houston, Texas, USA
    USA English
    Both less and fewer are comparatives, relative terms.

    I should have said that I might be more likely to say "three miles less" than "three fewer miles". Come to think of it, I would probably say "three miles closer to the school" instead.

    Rather than counting miles, I usually let my odometer measure distances in miles and fractions. I try not to say "three less miles", though people around me do say it, but I would be more likely to say "three miles less" than "three miles fewer". Context would of course affect my preference.
     
  9. Mr.X Senior Senior Member

    Singapore
    Burmese & English (2nd Language)

    Than can we say, less than 5 item.
     
  10. Forero Senior Member

    Houston, Texas, USA
    USA English
    No, items remains plural, unless we are talking about one item (or part of one item).

    Number is singular in "a number of items less than five." The number 5 itself is singular (5 is less than 6), and the plural is 5s, or "fives" (There are three fives in 15515). "Five items" is plural, and "a number of items" is almost always taken as plural (A number of items were purchased.). "The number of items", however, is almost always singular: "To use this check-out station, be sure that the number of items you are purchasing is less than five."

    "Fewer than five items" and "less than five items" are plural because they refer to countable items. "Fewer than five" without a noun is plural - I think "fewer" and "five" there are plural pronouns - but I think "less than five" without a noun is singular, referring to an indefinite number smaller than 5.

    What I think the merchant is doing is modifying "items" by "less than five" as in "items numbering less than five".

    As you can imagine, the digital age has not been kind to the word fewer.
     
  11. Mr.X Senior Senior Member

    Singapore
    Burmese & English (2nd Language)
    How about " Express Lane for items less then 5" ? Odd

    And I believe we say, "less than 5 dollars", so are they same ?
     
  12. Forero Senior Member

    Houston, Texas, USA
    USA English
    There is much similarity:

    You can use this lane for (a total purchase) less than five items.
    You can have this book for (a price) less than five dollars.

    But the ideas are not quite the same:

    You can use this lane for a total purchase of fewer than five items. :tick:
    You can have this book for a price of fewer than five dollars. :cross:

    Dollars are used to "measure" a price, but items are assumed to be countable. Just as a distance may be 0.3333... miles, a price may be $0.3333... dollars (3 for a dollar). But we don't normally talk about 0.3333... items to check out.
     
  13. Harry Batt

    Harry Batt Senior Member

    Minneapolis
    USA English
    My supermarket, where 10 items is the magic number, solved the quantitiy problem after two customers had a snit over "10 items or less." The sign now reads, "About 10 items." The checkout clerk is considered the arbiter. No questions asked.
     
  14. sound shift Senior Member

    Derby (central England)
    English - England
    If you focus on the number of items in the basket: "Fewer than five items".
    If you think of the contents of the basket as "stuff" [uncountable noun], then "less than five items" is acceptable, in my view.
     
  15. Mr.X Senior Senior Member

    Singapore
    Burmese & English (2nd Language)
    Is this followed sentence grammatically correct ?

    Express lane for the customer with five items or less.

    I believe here I am talking about quantity.

    Please correct me.
     

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