Discussion in 'English Only' started by Dmitry_86, Aug 4, 2009.

  1. Dear forum members!!!

    I know that "less" is mostly used with uncountable nouns whereas "fewer" is used vice versa. However, I have heard that sometimes people use "less" with plural countable nouns:

    1. This proposal will mean less jobs and a dwindling rail network ("job" is countable, though)
    2. Less people are going to university than usual ("people" is countable. Rather, "man" is countable so there should be "fewer people").

    Are my examples correct or erroneous?

  2. bibliolept

    bibliolept Senior Member

    Northern California
    AE, Español
    They are technically not the best choices, but you will hear this quite often in everyday conversation.
  3. Thanks for the reply. So they are possible. Are they grammatically corresct (aside from far better "fewer")?
  4. dancingmouse New Member

    Chicago, IL
    They are both incorrect, the only exception to the rule is that : "Less is used before a plural noun that denotes a measure of time, amount, or distance"..which is not the case in the two sentences.
  5. Histonium

    Histonium Member

    Hi Dimitry_86,

    as far as I know "less people" is wrong, so as you said you must say fewer people since "people" is countable noun.

    Sometimes, even English speaker make this kind of mistakes, but only in spoken English.
    Nobody is perfect, after all. ;-)
  6. Waylink Senior Member

    English (British)

    Although the use of less (instead of fewer) with countable nouns is wrong by proper or traditional standards of English, there are many people who although they know the difference, still prefer to use less for both countable and uncountable nouns.

    As such, they have taken a deliberate decision to add their voices to the democratic pressures that lead to change in the language and eventually in what dictionaries and grammar books say is "accepted" and "correct". It is not always simply a mistake based on "ignorance" or "carelessness".

    They would no doubt argue that the distinction is an anachronism. Afterall, we use [ more ] with both countable and uncountable (mass) nouns without demur.

    Nevertheless, if I were preparing students for an English examination or writing formal English, I would have no hesitation in insisting on fewer with countable nouns.

    Finally, notice that in some cases it is completely correct to use [ less than ] with what appear to be countable nouns, for example:

    The car was travelling at less than 50 kilometers per hour.
    It would be quite wrong to say "fewer than 50km/h" becasue although "50km/hr" seems to be countable plural, it is treated as a measure, not as separate items.

    <<promotional link deleted>>

    Note also that [ less ] is also used in expressions like:
    He was in less of a hurry today than yesterday.

    I hope this is helpful.
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 5, 2009
  7. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    See fewer less
    Please remember to look for the answer in the forums before posting a new question.
  8. Thanks a lot to you all!!! As is written in my very first post, I know the general rule of using less/fewer with count and uncount nouns. However, the two sentences introduced by me above have been taken from the Collins English Usage Grammar book where it is written that sometimes "less" is used with count nouns, though this is considered to be generally incorrect by traditional English adherents. I just wanted to find out what the real situation is like. I think I have learnt something from this thread.

    Thanks once again!!!
  9. cuchuflete

    cuchuflete Senior Member

    Maine, EEUU
    This is yet another case of a "rule" that is really a relatively recent stylistic preference.
    I was brought up with strict instructions to use fewer for countable nouns, less for uncountable things, and never to confuse the two. That dictated my adherence to the phoney "rule" until I joined this forum, and learned that less has been used for countable nouns for many hundreds of years. I remain more comfortable with the usage I was taught, but now accept that this is a question of style, and not a legitimate rule of grammar.

    See the linked threads provided in previous posts, or consider this usage note from the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, published at dictionary.com:

    Emphasis added.

    Note that this is a descriptive dictionary, not a prescriptive one.

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