The green automobile has <fewer/less> emissions ...

Discussion in 'English Only' started by JulianStuart, Jul 4, 2009.

  1. JulianStuart

    JulianStuart Senior Member

    Sonoma County CA
    English (UK then US)
    For words such as (coffee) grounds, (automobile) emissions etc. that are clearly plural but equally clearly uncountable (one coffee ground???, one CO2???, one emission???) how do we rationalize fewer or less?
    A TV commercial describing a green automobile as having "fewer emissions" prompted my thinking - it sounded weird! It's not as though one can say it has 17 emissions per mile while a gas-guzzler has 39! Conversely, the -s nature makes "less emissions" also grate.

    There is a sleazy way out of this that doesn't answer the original question : lower emissions, but it doesn't work for grounds!

    Mods: I couldn't find any threads but it's not an easy topic to search, so if this has been discussed before please show me the thread to add to, thanks.
     
    Last edited: Jul 4, 2009
  2. SwissPete

    SwissPete Senior Member

    94044 USA
    Français (CH), AE (California)
    I never heard of cars having 17 (or 39) emissions...

    Is pollution expressed in emissions?

    :confused:
     
  3. g_man_50 Senior Member

    Illinois
    USA English
    Coffee is uncountable but grounds is not. CO2 may be uncountable, but emissions are not. One car may be causing an emission of CO2, while two or more cars are causing emissions of CO2. A ground of coffee is analogous to a drop of water. Grounds and drops are both countable; coffee and water are not. The words themselves are plural, therefore they call take words like few rather than a little.
     
  4. JulianStuart

    JulianStuart Senior Member

    Sonoma County CA
    English (UK then US)
    Yes, what comes out of the tailpipe (exhaust pipe) of a car can be called (at least in the US) emission or emissions but it is never "counted" - it can be measured , often in terms of mass of carbon dioxide - CO2 - per unit distance (hence the so-called carbon footprint).
     
  5. JulianStuart

    JulianStuart Senior Member

    Sonoma County CA
    English (UK then US)
    That is an example of countability but not the one I was thinking of. The situation is where one automobile is described as having _____ emissions than another. Fewer or less?

    When one removes a certain number of drops (of water) from a glass of water, the result is less water but fewer drops! That's fine and grammatical. Does "emissions" in the sentence above (not your example) represent the water or the drops???

    Edit : I just also noticed a slip in your response that perhaps clarifies the question - you (perhaps subconsciously) referred to coffee grounds as a collective.

    Just to be clear, I do not know the answer because both choices sound weird.
     
    Last edited: Jul 4, 2009
  6. g_man_50 Senior Member

    Illinois
    USA English
    In your example, the word emissions is shorthand for molecules of CO2 or whatever else is being emitted. Those molecules are countable, ergo the word substituting for them, i.e., emissions is also considered countable. Uncountable nouns are considered singular but cannot support a/an since they cannot be divided and therefore counted. You don't say a water, a music, a honesty, etc. But you can say an emission (of CO2), a ground (of coffee), or a grain (of rice) even though RICE is uncountable.
     
  7. Philo2009 Senior Member

    English
    Except for a small number of nouns designated as 'plural only' (scissors, pants, etc.) - which actually possess no singular form - 'fewer' will always be correct (however much colloquial usage may tolerate 'less'): the practical difficulty, or even absurdity, of attaching a particular number to any given plural noun makes no difference to its plural status as far as syntax is concerned!
     
  8. Forero Senior Member

    Houston, Texas, USA
    USA English
    Good question.

    It all depends on what is meant by "emissions". If you mean a smaller number of times CO2 is emitted, that would be "fewer emissions". If you mean a smaller number of substances being omitted (CO2, H2O, CO, H2SO4, etc.), I believe that would also be "fewer emissions". But if you mean a smaller quantity of CO2, and call that "CO2 emissions", then it would have to be "less CO2 emissions", like "I'll take less of the potatoes today", not "fewer".

    Personally, I might say "less onions on my burger please", but I have never heard of "emissions" as a quantity. And I have never heard of "emissions" as individual molecules. To me, one automobile having "fewer CO2 emissions" only means a car that emits CO2 fewer times.

    I can see, and count, coffee grounds, so "fewer coffee grounds" is fine, but "less grounds for divorce" makes sense too.

    I think I would say "less oats", like "less cereal".

    EDIT: And I would say "fewer pants", "fewer scissors", not "less".
     
  9. JulianStuart

    JulianStuart Senior Member

    Sonoma County CA
    English (UK then US)
    I think it was a Toyota commercial (proud of fewer emissions) I saw that made me think about this. Subsequently, I have discovered that both BMW and Volvo have been hauled over the coals for describing their vehicles as having less emissions.

    Thanks Forero - it does indeed depend on what is meant. (In the original situation and in my questions - others have brought their interpretations which don't necessarily coincide with said situation :D ).

    The item being referred to as "emissions" in those contexts is the "total amount of bad stuff" not the number of different kinds of molecules, nor the number of instances something is emitted (presumably one "instance" would be a single, albeit continuous, emission from starting to stopping the engine?) nor the number of molecules of bad stuff, but the amount - hence my perception of the merit in the question.

    I thought of the "divorce ground"s too but it hurt my brain because one reason can be grounds for divorce! And then there are the "grounds" in which a country manor might be situated - can that be singular, too?!? So then I thought perhaps "grounds" wasn't such a good parallel, even if it has its own conundra. I think I need a magnifying glass to see a single ground of coffee unless it was Greek or Turkish grind :D then a microscope.
     
  10. JulianStuart

    JulianStuart Senior Member

    Sonoma County CA
    English (UK then US)
    Just as a (soft) point of reference, when you look on g**gle for the phrase associated with people - "fewer people" is the winner and outnumbers "less people" by 2:1. (~2 million vs ~1 million) Some will no doubt throw up their hands in disgust that it is that small a ratio (!) However, for "fewer emissions" it is only 4:3 over "less emissions"(~80,000 vs ~60,000).
     
  11. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    On emissions - my current edition of "Top Gear" magazine gives, for each model of car, a figure for CO2 emissions measured in grams per kilometre.

    A Ford Fiesta produces fewer emissions than a Maserati GranTurismo.
     
  12. Forero Senior Member

    Houston, Texas, USA
    USA English
    Well if "emissions" is a quantity like g/km, then, for my 2 cents, I would have to say "less (of the CO2) emissions", not "fewer (of the CO2) emissions", just as I say "less of the gray skies today", not "fewer of the gray skies today", and "less of the potatoes", not "fewer of the potatoes" when the "potatoes" are mashed.

    I would prefer a singular word for "emissions" if there is one.

    People who make and sell cars have their own jargon of course, and jargon has a way of becoming standard language (for example if enough people read the magazine).
     
  13. JulianStuart

    JulianStuart Senior Member

    Sonoma County CA
    English (UK then US)
    Thank you Mrs. Loob - on point and succinct as usual!

    You have helped break up the gridlock in my head: I was sitting on the wrong fence. For engines we have intake and output, both of which would be less/more. For cars we have fuel consumption (litres per 100 km or mpg) and we have emission ( g CO2 per km - not sure of the US units). Both would be less/more. The problem is that the word emissions has been used for this (these?). If I were to tilt at a windmill here, it would be to encourage the use of emission rather than emissions :D
    A Ford Fiesta produces less emission than a Maserati GT. That sounds positively heavenly from a grammar (or is it syntax?) viewpoint.

    Thanks all, for the discussion and epiphany.

    Edit : Written while Forero was posting his brilliant comment "I would prefer a singular word for "emissions" if there is one."
     
  14. Forero Senior Member

    Houston, Texas, USA
    USA English
    Why not just say "A Ford Fiesta emits less (CO2) than a Maserati GT."? "Emission(s) production" just seems too wishy-washy to me.
     
  15. JamesM

    JamesM à la Mod

    I think the reason "emissions" is used, and rightly, in my opinion, is that a car does not emit only one gas or substance. A car emits CO2, sulfur dioxide and a host of other nasty things.

    If a car emitted only one gas or substance I would agree with you.
     
  16. JulianStuart

    JulianStuart Senior Member

    Sonoma County CA
    English (UK then US)
    While my horse is resting, I observe that one could draw the parallel that fuel (gasoline or petrol) is also a mixture of liquid compounds, some of which are nastier than others, and yet remains singular; we're just used to thinking of "it" rather than "them". The car emits something which is a mixture of gaseous compounds.
    One of the advantages in being a Libra is that I can let something like this go either way :D
     
  17. moverb Junior Member

    U.S.
    English
    The correct word in this context is "decreased." They should say "decreased emissions." Not "less." Not "fewer.'
     
  18. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    Well...

    I might vote for "lower". But not, I think, "decreased".

    Welcome to the forums, moverb:)
     
  19. moverb Junior Member

    U.S.
    English
    You're right, they could have said "lower" also. Isn't that the same as "decreased?" Emissions are pollutants in the automobile exhaust. Each is measured as a rate, the mass of a pollutant per mile of driving. The objective of the car maker is to decrease the levels of pollutants, which is why the TV commercial should have said that they were successful in building a car with decreased (lower) emissions.
     

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