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Less vs fewer

Less and fewer are comparative adjectives that describe that something is decreasing. Depending on the subject of a sentence, only one of them is correct. Use fewer with things you can count and less with things you cannot count.

Let’s say you want to go on a diet. To do so, you could dial back on your consumption of candy bars. Because you could specify how many candy bars you mean, you want to eat fewer candy bars. You could also be more generic and say you do not want to eat as much sugar. Because sugar is uncountable unless we talk about individual grains, you want to eat less sugar.

  • You can watch fewer shows and less television.
  • You can drink fewer cups of coffee or less coffee.
  • You can eat fewer steaks and less meat.

Fewer answers the question of “exactly how many”. Use it when the noun can be paired with a number, such as “five shows”. You wouldn’t watch “three television”, making less the correct choice in that case.

Unfortunately, this rule does not apply when talking about time, money, distance, or weight. These examples do not match the countable-uncountable-rule, but are still correct:

  • My commute takes less than 30 minutes.
  • This meal costs less than 15 dollars.
  • They live less than 500 meters from the office.
  • My dog weighs less than 10 kilograms.

If the exact value we refer to with these sentences could be a fraction (such as 25.5 minutes or 8.9 kilograms), we use less.

Some nouns, such as water or homework, are uncountable. With them, you will always use less. If something is countable in integers only, use fewer. For example, this lesson will help you make fewer mistakes.

All lessons in this course

1

An actual video

Two words can look like translations of each other even if they aren’t. The word “actual” is our first venture into this category of false friends.

2

Making a photo

Even if you translate each individual word in a sentence correctly, the resulting translation can still be off.

3

What for a picture

Not every word in a sentence needs to appear in its translation. Languages don’t map to each other one-to-one.

4

Or?

You can spot Germans by the fact that they use “or” to ask questions. Unfortunately, the word doesn’t work that way in English.

5

Hello together

This mistranslation gave this course its name. “Together” refers to doing something with others. Here’s how to greet a group of people instead.

6

Handy

What do you call a phone you can hold in your hand? Well, it’s not this. If you call it a handy, you’re in for some awkward looks.

7

Becoming a car

“Bekommen” and “to become” are another pair of false friends. If you want something, make sure you’re not accidentally turning yourself into that thing.

Less vs fewer

Is it “less mistakes” or “fewer mistakes”? They both seem to say that something is not as much as it was before, but only one is grammatically correct.

9

Eventually

False friends are everywhere. Eventually is very similar to the German “eventuell”, but it means something completely different.

10

Whom

Why isn’t it “Whom let the dogs out”? The extra letter does not turn a regular “who” into a fancy version of itself.

11

Apostrophes

When coming from a language that doesn’t normally use them, where to put apostrophes can seem confusing.

12

I vs me

Was an event organized by “Nina and I” or “Nina and me”? To find which one applies, take the other person out of the sentence for a second.

13

Good vs well

You’re doing well, Superman is doing good. This lesson looks at the rules behind which of these two is correct in a given situation.

14

Looking forward

When you’re excited about something, tell others what that thing is. On its own, you’re only saying half an expression otherwise.

15

Gender-neutral pronouns

When you don’t know someone’s preferred pronouns, you can use they/them even when speaking about an individual person and not a group.

16

Please

We have been taught to always say please and thank you. Whether they are right for a situation depends on the context.

17

Each other

Some actions happen to multiple people at once, like running into someone. In these situations, we need to use reciprocal pronouns.

18

Do

Other languages don’t always use the auxillary “do” as much as the English language does, so it’s often lost in translation.