- "Fewer people attended our presentation."
- "Less people attended our presentation."
Do you think the first example above is correct? Or does the second item sound right to you?
Or does the apparently fine difference between the two even really matter if the meaning is understood?
Some readers might consider that both are fine. After all arguably, most people whose first language is English would instantly understand what the writer is saying in both instances, so isn't that what effective communication is all about?
All fair comments.
Nevertheless, from a grammatical standpoint, only the first example above is correct, yet many today may use the second example by default.
Don't "fewer" and "less" essentially have the same definition? Which begs the question: if there are minor differences, does that really matter?
I believe the answer to that dilemma is, yes - if you want to be considered a professional communicator - though times are changing. No if you don't know or care about the differences.
People expect others to make mistakes yet will expect you, as a writer, speaker, presenter or website provider, to know how to write, speak or communicate to a standard that is higher than average, and to do so in a way that is seen as professional.
Key tip: sometimes, the only difference between average and outstanding is in the details. Applying a little more attention to detail can sometimes make a big change to the outcome of your communication.
A Simple Guideline to Help You Easily Determine When to Use "Fewer" and When to Use "Less"
Here's a simple rule to help you almost instantly make the right choice:
- If the topic to which your sentence refers is plural, use "fewer".
- If the topic is singular, use "less".
For example, in the plural topics of "colors", "diseases" and "rain showers", we can have:
- Fewer colors.
- Fewer diseases.
- Fewer rain showers.
Or in the singular topics of "color", "disease" and "rain", we can have:
- Less color.
- Less disease.
- Less rain.
To Polish Or Not To Polish: That Is Your Question
More recently, I have noticed a trend or tendency even among top UK television news presenters that ignores these subtle differences and many simply prefer to use "less" in almost every instance today.
Of course, that is their choice. Yet what does it say? Maybe, the producers judge that few will notice the differences.
Even so, my recommendation is to learn and understand when to use "fewer" or "less". Although the issue may seem trivial, the end result can indeed give your writing, speaking or presentation an extra touch of professionalism that your audience may notice and appreciate. Sometimes, a single detail can separate you from getting the job or project you seek.
Moreover sometimes, your readers, listeners, or viewers may enjoy your polished delivery more, but not necessarily understand why at the time on interaction. Maybe, just maybe, the answer can be found in the details: polishing your work is exactly that, adding an extra shine to what might otherwise be a dull communication.
You can merge in the crowd - or you can master your art and stand out. Those who strive to stand out are ideally positioned to prosper.
Over to you.