"Few" or "less"?

Only a minute ago, a colleague who teaches Economics called and asked if there is a difference between “fewer” or “lesser”. Firstly, “few” and “less” are words that mean “very little”. Do these words have the same meaning? Yes.

However, the way they are used is different. “Few” is used with countable nouns like books, bottles, houses and other things that can be counted. On the contrary, “less” is used with uncountable nouns (also called non-count or mass nouns) like  water, food, milk, sand and so on. Let’s compare these sentences:

  • Adults consume lesser milk than children. [milk is uncountable]
  • Adults consume fewer bottles of milk than children. [bottles are countable]

The rule is, use “few” for things that you can count individually; use “less” for things that you can’t count, including ideas, emotions and so on. Look at a few more examples:

  1. There is less excitement on the field after the the opponent scored the first goal.
  2. A few people believe that handphones cause brain damage.
  3. “Transformers” is less interesting than “Terminator”.
  4. I borrowed a few interesting books from the library. [The focus is on the books – interesting books.]
  5. We noticed only a few happy faces at the party. [The focus is on the faces – happy faces.]

Is the difference between “few” and “less” clearer now? 😛

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Posted on July 8, 2009, in Word Power and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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