One LESS/FEWER thing to worry about

Discussion in 'English Only' started by Li'l Bull, Jan 21, 2013.

  1. Li'l Bull

    Li'l Bull Senior Member

    Spanish (Spain)
    Hi, native speakers of English!

    I've just read another thread with the title 'one less thing to worry about'. The explanation in said thread is perfectly clear, but somebody told me it should be 'one fewer thing to worry about' if we wanted to be grammatically correct (just as in the difference between 'less people'/'fewer people'). Is 'less' here informal and accepted, yet incorrect? Should we use 'fewer'?

    Thank you in advance.
     
  2. R.O

    R.O Senior Member

    Polish
    What is grammatically correct isn't always reflected in everyday speech. The less version is much more popular, but the 'less' should follow the word 'thing'. One thing less to worry about.
     
    Last edited: Jan 21, 2013
  3. Li'l Bull

    Li'l Bull Senior Member

    Spanish (Spain)
    Thanks, R.O.

    Are you sure? I'm sure native speakers of English on this forum used 'one less thing to worry about'.
     
  4. Parla Senior Member

    New York City
    English - US
    Good question, Li'l Bull. In AmE, we do say "one less thing to worry about", even though it's technically incorrect; it's quite common and is even used in writing. I don't think I've ever heard anyone say "one fewer thing". Please don't ask me to explain this. English is a crazy language. :)

    (Yes, R.O., it's one less thing, not "one thing less".)
     
  5. Li'l Bull

    Li'l Bull Senior Member

    Spanish (Spain)
    Thanks, Parla. :thumbsup: So what people actually use is 'one less thing'. I'll stick to that. :)
     
  6. PaulQ

    PaulQ Senior Member

    UK
    English - England
    There's an interesting and informative article here, which, after agreeing with R.O., above, goes on to say
     
  7. Li'l Bull

    Li'l Bull Senior Member

    Spanish (Spain)
    Thanks, PaulQ.

    The article you suggested is really interesting (the statistics speak for themselves). It seems 'less' is the most widespread version. May I ask you which one you would use and using which word order ('one less problem' or 'one problem less')? I thought 'one problem less' was out of the question...
     
  8. R.O

    R.O Senior Member

    Polish
    Well, I'm sorry if I misled someone, but I am sure I've heard "One thing less to worry about". Is it unacceptable?

    << Directions for finding a video removed. >>
     
    Last edited: Jan 21, 2013
  9. PaulQ

    PaulQ Senior Member

    UK
    English - England
    Google N-gram viewer shows that one less problem far out numbers one problem less; the latter sound far more formal - almost (not quite) over-corrected. The fewer versions do not even register.
     
  10. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southwest France
    English - England
    No, it's not at all rare. The ngrams suggest it's the less popular variant.

    It's interesting that when used with people 'fewer' is much more popular.

    I suspect that the number makes a difference (people are plural, thing is singular). One fewer is much less popular than one less. Four fewer is almost as popular as four less. A thousand fewer is almost at parity with a thousand less.

    It's as though the higher numbers impress the countability of the noun upon the speaker.

    At a million, fewer is more popular than less.
     
  11. AmaryllisBunny

    AmaryllisBunny Senior Member

    "One less thing to worry about," is the "correct" response. "One fewer..." is not...

    Because although "fewer" works with countable nouns, "thing" is singular, which is an exception... "in strict usage, less applies to singular nouns and fewer to plural... less is ... applied to ... singular count nouns" (508, Garner). "one fewer, an awkward and unidiomatic phrase. One can't help thinking that this is a kind of HYPERCORRECTION induced by underanalysis of the less-vs.-fewer question" (508).

    Already posted this elsewhere but the more the merrier.

    Source: Garner's Modern American Usage
     
    Last edited: Feb 24, 2015
  12. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southwest France
    English - England
    The "strict usage" monster rears its head again. I can't see anything "incorrect" about "one thing less to worry about", for instance.
     
  13. AmaryllisBunny

    AmaryllisBunny Senior Member

    It was saying how "one thing less to worry about," is correct.
     
  14. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southwest France
    English - England
    Good. Then why did you say?
     
  15. AmaryllisBunny

    AmaryllisBunny Senior Member

    Because "one fewer" is incorrect.
     
  16. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southwest France
    English - England
    This is to avoid the issue, as you are well aware.

    When you say that only one thing is "correct", learners will understandably think you mean that other things are "incorrect".

    Also in this world where the one is "correct" and the other "incorrect", among things commonly said by native speakers, what account do you take of one of the great stylists of the English language who can write:

    'Arrestment of the knaves and dastards:' ah, we know what a work that is; how long it will be before they are all or mostly got 'arrested:' - but here is one; arrest him, in God's name; it is one fewer! Past and Present, Chapter 6. Thomas Carlyle.

    Is that just "incorrect"?

    I'm troubled by linguistic Manichaeism. I'm happier seeing us giving general guidelines than blanket proscriptions.
     
  17. AmaryllisBunny

    AmaryllisBunny Senior Member

    Language evolves with time. At this current state in time it would not seem appropriate. Context is very important. Given a historical context, "fewer" may absolutely be the better choice. I would stand by my argument that it currently is not "correct" talking about common use and in the present context of today... However that does not mean that it was never correct as with, "This Word is most commonly used in speaking of a Number; where I should think Fewer would do better. No Fewer than a Hundred appears to me not only more elegant than No less than a Hundred, but strictly proper." --Baker 1770....

    In addition, Stylistics is on the other side of grammar. It is the use of language to fit a style. Grammar doesn't always follow what is stylistically appropriate. I apologize for not having phrased it better, although I did correct it.
     

Share This Page