1. The WordReference Forums have moved to new forum software. (Details)


Discussion in 'English Only' started by jullianus, Oct 16, 2012.

  1. jullianus Senior Member


    1. a. This city has less beautiful bridges than Paris. b. This city has fewer beautiful bridges than Paris.
    2. a. I have less difficult problems than you. b. I have fewer difficult problems than you.
    3. a. They drink less fresh water than the city people.

    Question 1 : I think these are all correct. But they have different meaning because 'less' is adverb and modifies 'adjective', 'fewer' is adjective and modifies 'noun'.
    Therefore, in 1(a) and 2(a) sentences, though 'bridges' and 'problems' are countable nouns, 'less' modifies 'beautiful' and 'difficult'.
    In 1(b) and 2(b), 'fewer' modifies 'bridges' and 'problems' Am I right?

    Question 2 : As 'less' modifies 'adjective' before 'noun', 'noun' after 'adjective' can be both 'countable noun' and 'noncountable' such as 1(a) 2(a) and 3(a). Am I right?

    Thank you always~.
  2. owlman5

    owlman5 Senior Member

    Hello, Jullianus.

    (1) I think you're right. "This city has less beautiful bridges than Paris (does)". = This city's bridges are not as beautiful as the bridges of Paris are. Here "less" is an adverb. "This city has fewer beautiful bridges than Paris (does)." = Paris has (a few/many) more beautiful bridges than this city has. "Fewer" is an adjective.

    (2) Your reasoning sounds good. However, listeners or readers might not understand your intended meaning without further explanation.
    Last edited: Oct 16, 2012
  3. jullianus Senior Member

    3. a. They drink less fresh water than the city people.

    As 'less' can be both 'adverb' and 'adjective', can 'less' modify 'fresh' or 'water'? If so, can this sentence have two meaning such as 'less fresh' and 'less water'?
  4. entangledbank

    entangledbank Senior Member

    English - South-East England
    All the (a) sentences are ambiguous, and for this reason it's advisable to use 'fewer' before adjectives when it's modifying the following noun. In 1(a) it could be that Paris has less bridges that are beautiful, or it could be that the bridges of Paris are less beautiful. 'Fewer' makes it clear that the latter is meant. (There's no rule that 'less' only quantifies countable nouns - this is repeatedly claimed to be true, but definitely isn't.)
  5. Biffo Senior Member

    English - England
    Do you mean 'the former'?

    I don't know if there is a rule but there should be in my opinion. It sounds better and would remove ambiguities in jullianus' sentences.

    I want fewer sugar. :cross:
    I want less sugar. :tick:

    I want fewer responsibilites. :tick:
    I want less responsibilities. :(
  6. jullianus Senior Member

    If I use 'comma', is it possible to avoid these ambiguousness?

    1. a. This city has less beautiful bridges than Paris. b. This city has fewer beautiful bridges than Paris.
    4. a. This city has less, beautiful bridges than Paris. b. This city has fewer, beautiful bridges than Paris.

    In 1(a) sentence, 'less' is 'adverb' and modifies 'beautiful'. In 4(a), 'less' is 'adjective' and modifies 'bridges'
    It is more correct to use 4(b) than 1(b) because 'fewer' is adjective. Am I right?
    Last edited: Oct 17, 2012
  7. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southwest France
    English - England
    Entangled points out one way of avoiding ambiguity here, which is only available with countable nouns, of course.

    With non-countables there is the problem raised by They drink less pure water.

    The obvious way round that is to change the word order:

    a. They drink water which is less pure.
    b. They drink less water (which avoids raising the question of purity - as irrelevant)

    In speech we get round the problem by intonation.

Share This Page