Less vs fewer. A simple tip to get it right every time

There are two types of people – those who are irritated by supermarket Five items or less signs (Fewer! It should be FEWER!) and those who don’t know the difference. Do you know the super simple tip to tell them apart?

Use LESS for things you can’t count:

  • less sunshine
  • less work
  • less coffee

Use FEWER for things you can count (like the items in your shopping basket):

  • fewer words
  • fewer buttons
  • fewer cupcakes

So there you go. If you can count it, use FEWER. If you can’t, use LESS.

More tips = fewer mistakes + less confusion.

Bonus tip

Once you know that things you can count are called ‘count nouns’ and things you can’t count are called ‘mass nouns’ you can apply the same logic to MANY and MUCH.

Use MANY for things you can count, and MUCH for things you can’t.

For example:

  • Using too many words can confuse your message.
  • Too much confusion can prevent customers from choosing your business.

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LESS vs FEWER: spelling tips to remember the difference

LESS vs FEWER: spelling tips to remember the difference

Don’t get caught out by the apostrophe in time expressions

I’m often asked whether expressions such as one one weeks holiday and five years’ time need an apostrophe.

The answer is yes.

These are called time expressions – or, if you want to sound impressive, temporal expressions.

So, where does that pesky apostrophe go?

It’s simple. If the period of time is singular, the apostrophe goes before the s:

  • One week’s notice
  • One month’s holiday
  • One year’s experience

If the period of time is plural, the apostrophe goes after the s:

  • Two weeks’ notice
  • Two months’ holiday
  • Two years’ experience

Oh yuk – must I really?

Not everyone likes that tricksy little apostrophe, but now you know it’s earned its place you can’t leave it out for fear of looking silly, right?

Don’t worry – if writing “I have 20 years’ experience” on your website or LinkedIn profile makes you pull a face, just replace the apostrophe with OF.

“I have 20 years of experience.”

Easy as that.

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