10 items or lessIt’s probably happened to us all when writing or chatting. You’re happily burbling away when some brightspark points out you used ‘less’ when you should have used ‘fewer’.

But after you’ve given the helpful friend your hardest stare, how do you remember next time you’re writing when to use ‘less’ and when is the right time to use ‘fewer’?

Actually, this one should be easy once you know the difference: less means not as much. Fewer means not as many.

So, use ‘fewer’ when referring to items that can be counted individually, like people, products, houses or animals.

For example:

  • People are buying fewer CDs these days.
  • Fewer universities recognise A’level general studies.

On the other hand, use ‘less’ if you’re talking about something that can’t be counted or doesn’t have a plural.

For example:

  • He earns less money than his wife.
  • I want to spend less time commuting to Wordsworks’ offices next year.

You should also use less if you’re referring to numbers on their own, or it’s an expression of measurement or time

For example:

  • His weight dropped from 15 stone to less than nine.
  • The marriage lasted less than six months.

So, hopefully fewer reasons to get it wrong next time – and less chance of being corrected by your friendly neighbourhood smart alec.