Monday, July 13, 2009

When Less is More, Not Less, Incorrect

Until yesterday, I had nothing against NY Governor David Patterson. Seems like a hard-working guy. (No snide remarks, please, about his post-Spitzer revelations.) He's smart, articulate, and doesn't back down from a fight with... well just about the entire NY State Assembly.

But then, when answering questions yesterday on the thorny issue of education, he started saying things like, "We'll have less students in less schools..."

Your Honor, may I suggest that you meant to use the word, "fewer" instead of less? As in "fewer students" and "fewer schools."

I know I'm being picky; after all, the guv was speaking off-the-cuff. But I hear this misuse all the time and it sets my persnickety teeth on edge. If you happen to care about these sorts of things, here's a quick rule of thumb to follow when deciding between less or few:
  • Use "fewer" when you are writing/talking about things you can count.
  • Use "less" for those things you can't count.
Of course, because English is such a fun language, there are several thousand exceptions to this rule. So for a more in-depth (and interesting) treatment of this subject, check out what Grammar Girl has to say.

She says it in fewer words than I ever could, which means you'll spend less time mastering this fine point of grammar.

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