No less than / no fewer than

Discussion in 'English Only' started by hoan965, Jun 16, 2012.

  1. hoan965 Senior Member

    I think that "No less than" is used with uncountable nouns and "No fewer than" with plural nouns?

    However, I have read the examples below in Oxford and Macmillan Dictionaries, so I am very confused about the uses of 'no less than' and 'no fewer than'.

    1/ The hamburgers should contain no less than 50% meat. (Macmillan Dictionary)

    2/ The guide contains details of no less than 115 hiking routes. ( Oxford Dictionary)

    3/ There are no fewer than 100 different species in the area.( Oxford Dictionary)

    Would you please tell me the uses of no less than andno fewer than?

    Thanks in advance.
  2. owlman5

    owlman5 Senior Member

    I'm surprised that you found the second example in the Oxford Dictionary, Hoan. I would have used "no fewer than 115 hiking routes". Your first idea about how to use "no less than" and "no fewer than" sounds good to me. I try to follow that principle myself.
    Last edited: Jun 16, 2012
  3. Woofer Senior Member

    English, USA
    The moderators will probably close this and ask you to search older threads, but since the older threads consist mostly of confusing argumentation I'm not so sure that's useful advice. This is a bit of a can of worms, but here's the complete story in a nutshell:

    Traditionally, "fewer" was used for countable objects while "less" was used for both countable and uncountable objects. This isn't a controversial point, there exist examples from all the major writers prior to the 20th century or so. However, certain grammarians thought the language would be clearer if the two usages were completely separated. Most influentially, H.W. Fowler in the early 20th century wrote, I'm paraphrasing here, "This isn't a rule, but I think it would be neat if it were, so we should all start doing it." After that, the rule started getting added to style guides across the English-speaking world and, soon after, many people began to insist on it in formal writing and elsewhere.

    Here's all you need to know.

    1. As a non-native speaker, you should use the rule exactly you've been taught and exactly as you've stated it above. It is always correct in all situations and in all registers of speech.

    2. Be aware that native speakers still use the older, more flexible form of "less" very often, both in speech and in writing. So you probably shouldn't go around correcting them. But there's no good reason to start copying them.

    3. Also, be aware that many people will treat this a serious grammatical error. Since you're going to treat "less" and "fewer" differently, you don't need to worry about that.
    Last edited: Jun 16, 2012
  4. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southwest France
    English - England
    The Oxford dictionary in which you found The guide contains details of no less than 115 hiking routes is the Oxford Advanced Learners' Dictionary. It is given there as an example of how no less can be used to emphasise a large amount.

    I think they are inviting you to conclude that in the ordinary way we say The guide contains details of no fewer than 115 hiking routes, to mean that there are at least that number; however, when we say The guide contains details of no less than 115 hiking routes, we are saying that it contains at least that number and isn't that a lot of routes for a guide to contain.

    I'm not sure I agree. I think Woofer has given good advice on this.
  5. hoan965 Senior Member

    Thanks a lot for your explanation.
  6. sdgraham

    sdgraham Senior Member

    Oregon, USA
    USA English

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