Grammar Wars: The Battle for Less/Fewer

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by Weird Al Yankovic
by Weird Al Yankovic

The GeekDads recently got into a lively discussion about the use of less versus fewer, and how to teach it to our kids. Here are the rather amusing results of that chat session:

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Randy Slavey: Now, ask me about “few vs. less” _laces up gloves_

Matt Blum: You mean “fewer,” I assume. :simple_smile:

Randy Slavey: indeed

Matt Blum: Yeah, I always want to correct signs in grocery stores that say “10 Items or Less.”

Randy Slavey: “10 Items or Less” – commence blood boiling :simple_smile:

Sean Hallenbeck: Few is a quantity, less is a descriptor of a quantity. I have a few items in my cart. Well, I have less than you. I think.

Matt Blum: “Fewer” is used when referring to something that has discrete units.

Randy Slavey: Nope, fewer

Sean Hallenbeck: Gah!

Matt Blum:”Less” is used when referring to something that doesn’t.

Preston Burt:

Matt Blum: I have fewer items than you. My car uses less fuel than yours.

Randy Slavey: I had this discussion with my son. “So milk would be less,” he asked. “Yes, you have less milk in your bowl. Until you start to measure it in discrete units. Then you would have fewer gallons of milk than I do.”

Matt Blum: Yep.

Sean Hallenbeck: Perfect example.

Matt Blum: I think the problem stems from that, if you were to substitute “fewer” where you should use “less,” it would be incredibly obvious, but it’s less so the other way around for some reason.

Matt Blum: Nobody would say “You have fewer milk in your bowl.”

Jamie Greene: That’s how I taught it to my daughter: can you count it? use fewer/many. is it not countable? use less/much.

Jamie Greene: You can’t count milk. But you CAN count bowls or bottles of milk.

Matt Blum: Right.

Randy Slave: That’s tough for kids sometimes, though, @jamiegreene , because I can count cocoa puffs in my bowl. However, when I talk about them collectively (using the world “cereal”), I should still use “less”. I have less cereal / I have fewer Cocoa Puffs.

Jamie Greene: Well, if you’re referring to the brand name, you have less Cocoa Puffs. If you’re referring to the puffs collectively, you might have fewer (if you bother to count them).

Randy Slavey: “How much Cocoa Puffs is in the bowl?” “How many Cocoa Puffs are in the bowl?” I’d argue “Cocoa Puffs” is not a collective noun.

Sean Hallenbeck: I suppose it depends on the motivation. Do you mean Cocoa Puffs (the brand) as a collective. or Cocoa Puffs ( the item) and in I have 10 Cocoa Puffs vs. I have a bowl of Cocoa Puffs.

Jamie Greene: I agree. But capitalized Cocoa Puffs is the same as “cereal.” Lowercase puffs can be counted. It’s a silly discrepancy, but there is a difference.

Randy Slavey: But would you say “How much Cocoa Puffs is in the bowl?”

Typolad: OUCH

Jamie Greene: No, of course not.

Sean Hallenbeck: How many Cocoa Puffs are in the bowl?

Jamie Greene: But I don’t eat Cocoa Puffs. :simple_smile:

Typolad: Third base

Randy Slavey: You would say, “How much cereal is in the bowl.” @jamiegreene: Then we have nothing more to say to each other. :simple_smile:

Jamie Greene: Lucky Charms. Love ’em – same problem. This is why elementary school language arts textbooks don’t teach grammar with cereal brand names as examples….or sports teams. Why “The Jordan era Bulls is the greatest NBA team ever.” is not correct in American English is beyond me.

Sean Hallenbeck: Ok, new thread: How do you eat Lucky Charms? Ceral first and then spoonfuls of the marshmallows, or the other way around, or a bit of both in each spoonful? I eat the cereal first and then go for the good stuff.

Typolad: I can’t eat Lucky Charms because there are marshmallows. There’s only ever been one Kosher Marshmallow cereal, and it was THE WORST thing I have eaten.

Jamie Greene: @mordechai_luchins: To be fair, I don’t think they’re real marshmallows, right?

Sean Hallenbeck: Kosher Marshmallow. I can die now..I’ve seen everything!

Typolad: The Kosher ones? Naw. They’re either made from fish gelatin or, more commonly, a plant bi-product. Same as Vegan Marshmallows.

Jamie Greene: No, the Lucky Charms “marshmallows”

Sean Hallenbeck: I stand corrected: Vegan Marshmallows.

Typolad: @seanhallenbeck: Well, if you’d move closer to the window so i could line up the shot, that would help.

Typolad: No idea what’s in Lucky Charms Marshmallows, but almost certainly not Kosher.

Jamie Greene: probably just 14 kinds of sugar

Sean Hallenbeck: Hang on, I happen to have a box of LC in my cupboard.

::SCENE::

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