Wrong Word Wednesday #2

Every week I will demonstrate an example of poor English where a different word is used from the one intended. Sometimes this creates a grammatically incorrect sentence. Unfortunately, the mistake is usually so pervasive that we all do it and such errors are usually made by those who should know better – journalists working for national or global media outlets such as newspapers and television.

This is probably the one that grates on English teachers the most (certainly those I have met). But do you know when to use which of the following?


Most people make this mistake, not realising that the context of use for each word is different. “Fewer” refers to a quantity whereas “less” refers to a volume. Here is an example, apparently there’s “less” people on unemployment. So that’ll be a few people minus body parts if only their hands and feet are claiming unemployment but their torsos are not.

The problem could stem from the fact that “more” is the antonym of both words and it is easier to say “In the UK, more people were registered unemployed in 2012 than in 2011″ than “In the UK, a greater number of people were registered unemployed in 2012 than in 2011″ so understandably, “less” becomes the antonym of “more” in either case.

We’ll have fewer cakes because we had to make less mix than we needed. We have less cake mix because there were fewer eggs than I believed we had.


Adjective: A smaller amount of, not as much. A reduction in size


Comparative: A smaller quantity of X compared to Y (items or of time – fewer Christians today than 100 years ago; fewer Catholics than Protestants in the UK today)

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