Choosing the correct adjective can sometimes be difficult, especially in certain confusing cases. One of those cases is whether or not to use “less” or “fewer“. That is the question, and a lot of people would get this confused, so I don’t want this to hold you up. Don’t hesitate to also check our 236 free and powerful practice tests

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Less” is used when you’re talking about things that aren’t countable. Like, you would say, “There is less sand on this beach than the beach we were at last weekend“, because “sand” is not something that’s countable.

You would use “fewer” when you’re referring to something that is countable. Like, “There are fewer doors on this house than the last house we lived in” because “doors” is something that’s very countable.

Let’s take a look at some examples:

There are fewer people over here.”

People” is something that’s countable, so we use “fewer“.

This sentence says:

There is less water in this river.”

Now, you could argue that “water” is something countable, because you could think, “Oh, you can count water in gallons of water.” But we’re not talking about gallons of water. We’re just talking about water in general, and water is not something that’s countable. So, we use the adjective “less“. “There is less water in this river.”

Now, this next sentence combines cases in which we can use “less” and “fewer“. It says:

Use less sugar when making fewer cookies.”

Sugar” is not something that’s countable. I mean, of course, you would count each individual grain of sugar, but overall, sugar is not countable. So, we use the adjective “less“. And then, we continue on to the sentence, it says “Use less sugar when making fewer cookies.” “Cookies” is something that’s very countable. So, we use the adjective “fewer“.

Now, finally, there is a case which makes this whole case kind of more confusing. When you’re talking about something that contains a number, when you’re talking about numerical things, you use the adjective “less“.

So, this sentence says:

The shirt will cost less than \$20.”

Now, you may think that “dollars” is something that’s very countable. It is, but to be grammatically correct, you use the adjective “less“.

This shirt will cost less than \$20.”

Or:

This purchase will consume less than 45% of my budget.”

If you’re using a percentage or any kind of statistical or numerical thing in a sentence, you use the adjective “less“. So, that’s just a side note you need to remember.

But, overall, you use “less” when you’re talking about something that’s not countable, and you use “fewer” when you’re talking about something that is countable.