Scientific English as a Foreign Language
Answers to Lesson of September 26, 1997
Less and Fewer

Many native speakers mix these up. You shouldn't.

"Less" is used to express a smaller quantity of something: Less wine was produced this year in Switzerland.

"Fewer" means a smaller number of units: Fewer bottles of wine were produced this year in Switzerland.

In other words, "less" can be thought of as the appropriate word for continuum descriptions and "fewer" for quantum descriptions.

Try it!

1. This atomically-resolved image of the surface of graphite measuring 10x10 nm has fewer atoms in it than the 20x20nm image.
2. We have no fewer than 10 torsional pendulums.
3. "Let's apply less voltage and see what happens."
4. "Downloading images from Netscape is easy today. There's less traffic, that is, fewer requests."
5. Who has less time, the students or the professors?

A friend who's in liquor production
Owns a still of astounding construction.
The alcohol boils
Through old magnet coils;
She says that it's "proof by induction."

-D.M. Smith

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Created May 11, 1998, by Nancy Burnham and Fred Hutson.