Know the difference between fewer and less: Language skills

Knowing the difference between fewer and less

 

English is a complex language and there is often confusion between words that seemingly have the same meaning but are particular in their usage. Such is the case with the words fewer and less.

It’s tempting to be lazy about these words.

You might be happy to say, ‘There are less clouds in the sky today’, and most people would know exactly what you meant. But to be technical about it, the correct statement is, ‘There are fewer clouds in the sky today.’

If I say, I have lost less weight this month than last month, the statement is correct. But if I want to talk about the number of kilograms I have dropped, I would say, ‘I have lost fewer kilograms this month than last month.

So what’s the difference? A body or mass of materials is spoken of as less. There is less water in the swimming pool than there was before the rainy season.

But it is correct to say, I have drunk seven cups of water, two cups fewer than yesterday.

Fewer is used in instances where items can be counted as singular units, i.e. in the discussion, clouds, cups, kilograms. Less is used where quantities cannot be broken down into units.

Less is used with abstract nouns such as sunshine, rain, thunder etc.

Here’s an exercise for practice. Fill in fewer or less.

  1. Jane’s wardrobe has _______ clothing in summer than in winter.

  2. Peter has ___________ dogs than his best friend.

  3. Mary wears ___________ perfume on week days.

  4. There is _____________ heat in the mild curry.

    A lovely cup of tea
    A lovely cup of tea
  5. Tea is _____________ expenses than coffee.

  6. There are ___________ dollars left after a shopping spree.

  7. How can there be______ money in my account after I paid a deposit?

  8. There are much___________ pieces of paper in that draft document.

 

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Write better English: the difference between license and licence

Writing good English requires a depth of knowledge of the language.

English is full of tricks: words that sound the same and are spelled differently and words that are spelled the same and have different meanings – and that’s just two.

There are many areas of confusion in the English language so let’s just clear up one.

Licence is a word that is spelled two ways. Licence and license. It starts out being quite simple using licence as the noun and license as the verb. And even that only works if you follow the UK English system. In America, license is used as a verb and a noun.

In UK English all derivatives of the verb from of license are spelled with an S, such as licensing and licensed. It’s really quite tricky so pay close attention to your writing.

If you can’t manage, get hold of an editor or a proofreader to help you out.

Here’s to better English.

 

Is said dead? How to use attributions correctly and creatively

In my work as a sub-editor, the only word allowed for an attribution is ‘said’. No, ‘revealed’, no ‘pointed out’, no ‘suggested’, no ‘argued’ – just plain ‘said’.

But for fiction writers the use of the word ‘said’ can become tedious if used over and over again. Eager writers will look for ways to substitute said with other, possibly more descriptive words.
There is a superb list of alternatives to choose from and budding novelists should not be discouraged.
For those who want to get stuck in right away, or write away, here’s a glimpse of just a few quick possibilities.

  • -Answered (a favourite)

    -Blasted

    -Cited

    -Exalted

    -Fumed

    -Garbled

    -Hissed

    -Intoned

    -Lambasted

    -Moaned

That’s just 10 ways to substitute said and should keep you busy as you fit the respective words to your characters. But getting back to said… You have to be careful that you substitute with purpose. The last thing you want is for your writing to sound forced and artificial.
There’s many a time where a simple said, will do the job just fine.

And at the cost of repeating myself, at the newspaper, said is the only attribution in the text. Here it’s all about simplicity.

And that’s all I have to say, for now.

 

Why I find both bothersome

As a provider of professional English writing services I have always found both a bother in the language. I find that is used in many, many phrases as a redundant word. However grammarians do not seem to have cause to edit this word out and some of the most highly respected publications throw in the word bother with gay abandon, not paying heed to its redundant placing in a sentence.

Having spent many years as a sub-editor working to a ‘less is more’ protocol, every word must count.

Thus both is bothersome because it is so often superfluous. For example, in the sentence ‘Joan and Mary both have measles,’ the sentence can stand and mean the same thing if you write, ‘Joan and Mary have measles’. And, is a very efficient little word and does the job just fine. However, if you write ‘Joan and Mary are sick, they both have measles,’ both is functional in its own right.

If your write,’Catherine has two kids. Both are at nursery school’ both has a perfectly good function. But, in most cases where the word ‘and’ is used to couple two nouns, both is unnecessary and does not add to or clarify the meaning.

I particularly dislike, ‘Both Jake and Bill are top business men’, when ‘Jake and Bill are top businessmen,’ does the job adequately. I do not see a fit purpose for ‘both’ in this sentence.

I urge all practitioners of written English to dispense with an over-reliance on both, and only use it when absolutely necessary.

I also welcome discussion on this topic and would like to learn more about the origins of the usage of the word ‘both’.

Businessmen shake hands
Nice doing business with you

All grammarians and practitioners of the English language welcome.

Five of the most common mistakes in the English language

The English language, rich and exotic as it is, is also prone to many mistakes in its usage.
For those using English as a second language, the challenge to avoid mistakes is that much more difficult.
For people born to the English language, many mistakes are still common.
1. 20 years old and 20-year-old.
Peter is 20 years old (three separate words – a full sentence)
Peter is a 20-year-old maths superstar.

20-year-old is used as an adjective and must be hyphenated.
2. rein and reign
Monarchies have reigns, but horses have reins.
We need to rein in the toddlers because it is about to rain.
The queen’s reign was extended because all her sons died.
3.quite and quiet – watch where the ‘e’ goes
It is quite easy to use spell check.
When it is quiet I can concentrate better.
4. angle and angel
Angels may descend in your time of extreme need.
Angles are right or wrong, strong or weak, in the sense of writing an article.
5.weak and week
After not eating for two days Jane felt weak.
On Sunday it well be a week since I started blogging.
That’s all for today. If you work on just these five mistakes, your English written language with radically improved.