Difference Between Less Than and Fewer Than

The words ‘less’ and ‘fewer’ are used interchangeably. Both have the same meaning. They are the opposite of ‘more’. But when we use the words ‘less than’ and ‘fewer than’ there is a slight difference. Even the native English speakers are also confused that how and when these words should be used so that the context is right. Sometimes we choose ‘less than’ and ‘fewer than’ because they sound right to the ears when putting them into a sentence. But there are simple rules that need to be followed while using them.

Less Than vs Fewer Than

The main difference between Less Than and fewer Than is that less than is used to refer to the small amount or small size of something. While Fewer than is used to refer to a small number in a given quantity. Less than is used for mass nouns. Fewer Than is used for Countable nouns. Less than is used for those items or things that cannot be counted. For example, The inflation rate in 2015 was less than 2020. Fewer Than is used where the given quantity can be counted. For example, Her shopping basket has fewer items than her friend’s shopping basket.

Less Than vs Fewer Than

Less Than is used for the uncountable noun. There is the basic rule of grammar where it is used. But there are some exceptions in which Less Than is used. In the modern era, usage of Less than has increased tremendously. There are exceptions like it is used in the plural nouns to represent distance, amount and time. Plastic, space, water are some of the uncountable things. But to make them countable we use the words like Less than. In the case of money, we think that money can be counted. But we use Less than instead of Fewer Than in a sentence.

Fewer Than means when there is not many. We use Fewer than when we can count the number or the quantities. For example, cookies can be counted. So Fewer than is used. In the case where money is involved, using fewer than becomes awkward and unexpected like in this sentence. Rebecca has fewer than twenty dollars left. In the case where percentage comes, it sometimes becomes difficult whether to use Less than or fewer than. So we have to see the big picture and think that what is the percentage we are talking about? Then it becomes easy to use.

Comparison Table Between Less Than and Fewer Than

Parameters of ComparisonLess Than Fewer Than
Used forMassCounting
ReferenceDegreeQuantity
SpecifyVolumeNumber
ExceptionsUsed in plural nouns, with time, money, weight etc.Used with numbers and percentages.
ExamplesI have less than 30 minutes to reach home.He has fewer than 50 rupees in his wallet.

What is Less Than?

Less Than according to grammar should be used with a singular noun. It includes mass nouns as well. However, according to grammarians, this rule cannot be applied correctly in modern times. Because of the usage and context with which it is used. Less Than is mostly used for the uncountable noun. However, there are some exceptions where Less than can also be used for the countable noun. Less than means not as much. Less than is used for small size or degree or amount. Less than is used in the context of money. Although money can be counted. But Less than is used to point out the bulk quantities rather than as a currency unit. For example, Yashu has less than twenty dollars left in his checking account.

We cannot use fewer than in this sentence because it is awkward and becomes unexpected. With time, also Less than seems exceptional. As time can be counted in minutes, hours and seconds. For example, Radhika has been at her job for less than five years. In terms of weight, less than is used customarily. For example, Baby Pandas weigh less than 200 grams at birth.

Less than is used in the formal language. It is used to specify the volume or mass of the quantities. Less than is used in these times in almost every sentence as ‘They get divorced in less than 3 years. It is used more commonly and widely.

What is Fewer Than?

Fewer Than is used when we have to count things. For example, Come to this shop, if you want to check the fewer than 10 items. Similarly, Fewer than can be used for fewer buses and fewer homes. Like in ‘English literature class has fewer students than students in the English language class’. Fewer Than means not as many. Countable things like cookies can be used with fewer than. Sometimes it becomes difficult in the trickier nouns that where to place the less than and fewer than. Although it may mean the same but adding fewer than can change its structure.

If a noun is preceded by a number then it becomes easier to remember that Fewer Than should be used. Fewer than is used for the plural noun. Fewer Than is also used with the percentage. But it has a rule. That if the percentage is something about countable. For example, Fewer than twenty people bought tickets to the show, so it was cancelled. To count gifts or count the people, fewer than can be used. ‘I saw fewer vehicles on the street.’ 

With Time, Fewer Than is used very rarely. But for generally referring to the time it can be used. Like ‘It would be nice to spend fewer minutes cleaning and more reading’. When using the sentence for grocery items, fewer than can be used. If more than twelve items are there. Because it is counted as a plural noun.

Main Differences Between Less Than and Fewer Than

  1. Less than is used for mass nouns. Fewer Than is used for counting nouns.
  2. Less Than refers to the degree of a noun. Fewer Than refers to the quantity of a noun.
  3. Less Than specifies the volume of the quantities. Fewer Than specifies the number of the quantities.
  4. Exceptions of Less Than is used in plural nouns, with time, money, weight etc. Exceptions of Fewer Than is used with numbers and percentages.
  5. An example of Less than is ‘I have less than 30 minutes to reach home’. An example of Fewer than is ‘He has fewer than 50 rupees in his wallet.’

Conclusion

Less than and fewer Than are used in the same context. They are the opposites of More. Sometimes, it becomes extremely confusing to use which one. There are few exceptions in the case of both Less than and Fewer than. The simple distinction between the two is of Countable and Uncountable. The most common type of error happens when we have to express about the grocery items. That weather to use Less than or Fewer than. Based on the singular or plural; noun also the difference is made between the two. In the formal settings, Less than is preferred. Whereas in an informal way, fewer than is preferred. If you use the wrong prescriptive grammar it doesn’t matter much unless it is awkward to the ears.

References

  1. https://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/acs.analchem.7b02380
  2. http://www.mathnet.ru/eng/semr487
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