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Less vs. Fewer

If you cringe at the sight of a “10 items or less” sign in a grocery store, you are a true grammarian! If you think the sign is correct, read on.


  • I would never ask for less potato chips.
  • We need more light in this room, not fewer.
  • Less grammar mistakes are something to strive for.


Less is for uncountable quantities such as water, heat, and air. Use fewer for countable items such as groceries, pets, or puzzle pieces. One may drink more or less hot cocoa while eating more or fewer potato chips. We are asked to use less salt, not fewer salt, and to make fewer mistakes, not less. Notice that more is the common oppositional point between less and fewer, and that is where the confusion lies.


This distinction between less and fewer — in common usage, at least — has minimized over time, but your average grocery store express lane is one of the places where the error stands out most prominently. Just don’t mention it to the clerk, as we’d all rather spend less time in line.

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