Copy
All literate people are copy editors, whether they be writers rewriting their own work or simply avid readers noticing a typo on a cereal box. -- Bill Walsh, Lapsing Into a Comma
 
 
 
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Issue 1, June 2016
Nitpick
Nifty tips on how to write and speak more effectively
 
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Muddled by “less” and “fewer”?
 
 
video.jpg You're not alone if you occasionally dither over the correct use of "less" and "fewer." It's a common conundrum, and the misuse of these two words frequently finds its way into mainstream media.

Take, for instance, actor Scarlett Johansson's Super Bowl commercial for SodaStream a couple of years ago. In the ad she touts that SodaStream's "a soda that's better for you and all of us. Less sugar, less bottles."

While that last "sentence" has nice symmetry, it's grammatically incorrect and was quickly chirped about by grammar geeks on social media. Johansson should have said, "Less sugar, fewer bottles."

In general,

When you're referring to people or things you can count, use "fewer."

When you're referring to quantity or things that can't be counted, use "less."
 
For example:
 
 
Children today are reading fewer books.
 
Fewer travellers chose our special deals last year.
 
Fewer than 10 dogs played in the park.
 
but
 
I experience less stress when I take this route.
 
Jen worked on Saturday so she had less time with her family.
 
Matt uses less water because he takes shorter showers.
 
 
Like a lot of English language rules, there are exceptions. Choose "less" when you're using:
 
  Numbers on their own.
Enrolment dropped to less than 80 from 100.
 
  Expressions of measurement or time.
Tanya lives less than four kilometres from the university.
The seminar lasted less than two hours.
 
What grammar gaffes have you heard lately? Email me if you'd care to share. And let me know if you need help in tackling your own grammar gremlins.
 
 
Sara Bedal is a writer, editor and plain-language specialist. She helps organizations tell their stories clearly, creatively and concisely.
Photo: Angela Durante Dukát, DUKÁT PHOTOS
 
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