The Grammar Geek returns: today we tackle expressing quantities correctly.
“Fewer” and “less”
You’re in the supermarket. One look in your basket will tell you whether you can cruise through the express checkout. If you can easily count the number of things in it, you’ll use a plural pronoun to refer to them. You can enter the express lane – because you have what’s known in the grammar-savvy markets as “10 items or fewer”.
If, on the other hand, your basket is piled so high with groceries that you can’t really count how many items are in it: forget the express lane. You don’t have items, you have stuff. With an abstract noun (such as stuff, time, or trouble), the issue is quantity: less of it, more of it, or whether you want to discuss it at all.
Generally speaking, use “few” to indicate a known number of things: She has fewer than five sweaters for her Scottish terrier.
Use “less” to indicate bulk amounts, especially where measuring quantity is difficult: There’s less sand in the hourglass.
Even if you want to mix it up, the same principles apply: Having less money might solve my problems. I’d have fewer chances to spend it.
“More than” versus “over”
When you need a term to describe a number greater than another figure or amount, you may consider ‘more than’ or ‘over’. While people often use the two interchangeably, you should know that they’re not the same.
“More than,” like “less than,” defines a quantity. Use this term to define amounts when the size of the statement you’re making is more important than its precision. Together, we contributed more than $50,000. The winning team inhaled more than 140 pies in the speed-eating contest.
The word “over“ works best as a preposition, like “under’ or “beside”. Use ‘over’ to describe a location or area: Bananas taste better over ice cream. Wear a coat over that dress or you’ll catch your death.
Do you have any other grammar questions, concerns, or pet peeves? Let us know in the comments. Your pet peeve may be the focus of the next Grammar Geek!