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Editing Tip: 'Less' vs. 'Fewer' in Academic Writing

Summary

Writers often have difficulty determining when to use ‘less’ and when to use ‘fewer’ in a sentence. While these words are both used to refer to quantity, they cannot be used interchangeably.

Research authors often have difficulty determining when to use ‘less’ and when to use ‘fewer’ in a sentence. While these words are both used to refer to quantity, they cannot be used interchangeably.

Less

We use ‘less’ to refer to something that cannot be counted (an uncountable quantity or mass noun) and does not have a plural form (e.g., time, air, money, rain). For example:

  • I spent less money to fix the roof because I was given a good discount. (Because we would not make the word ‘money’ plural, i.e., we do not use ‘monies’, we should use ‘less’ to describe the amount of money used to fix the roof.)
  • The goal is to have less acid rain by 2025. (Because ‘rain’ cannot be counted, we would use ‘less’ to describe the amount of rain being discussed.)

Fewer

We use ‘fewer’ to refer to countable things (count nouns) or things in the plural form (e.g., computers, cars, patients, papers). For example:

  • Due to the high gas prices, there will be fewer cars on the road this summer. (Because ‘cars’ is a plural noun, we would use ‘fewer’ to describe the amount of cars on the road.)
  • My students tend to submit fewer late papers now that they can submit them online. (Because ‘papers’ is a plural noun, we would use ‘fewer’ to refer to the amount of papers being discussed.)

We hope that these examples will help you determine when to use ‘less’ and when to use ‘fewer’ in your academic writing! Please email us with any questions or comments.

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