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Tip 67: Fewer or Less?

How do I know when to use ‘fewer’ and when to use ‘less’?

The express lane at the grocery store is not grammatically correct if the sign near the cash register reads “15 items or less.” Uh oh.

How can that be?

Use ‘fewer’ when you are referring to things that can be counted.

Correct: I have fewer shoes than Imelda Marcos.

Shoes are countable items—even if it might take you a while in the case of Imelda Marcos, the former first lady of the Philippines, who is known for her enormous shoe collection.

Correct: You may use this line if you have 15 or fewer items to buy.

Use ‘less’ if the item to which you are referring is not countable.

Correct: I have less patience than the average grandmother.

Correct: A pumpkin pie requires less sugar than a pecan pie requires.