NorthWest by NorthEast Blog

Fewer vs. less

Thank you for the great answers to this month's grammar gaffe! I love that you considered grammar and meaning. I absolutely agree that the list is confusing. And, based on what's visible, what happened to 2 nights a week? (Thank you, Beth and Kristie, for pointing that out!)


Here's the screenshot again as a refresher:




I feel I need to mention a caveat. The full Facebook survey actually shows more options; these are just the highlights. Still, as a list, it leaves a lot to be desired. In this case, it's possible that Facebook is relying on the fact that users are familiar with what the full surveys look like. For good user experience, it's always better to consider the person who is seeing the text for the first time... and not assume anything.


The reason I chose this as my grammar gaffe is the use of "less" in "Less than 2 nights a week." Why did I choose this among all the issues? Honestly? It's a pet peeve of mine. As far as I can tell, people use less and fewer incorrectly almost as often as correctly. I'm doing my small part to change that. (Thanks, Bryan, for pointing out this grammar issue on Facebook!)


What's the rule?

This one is actually pretty simple. If you are referring to items that you can count (cars, nights, pogo sticks), use fewer. If you are referring to items that you can't count (traffic, humidity), use less.


So, the correct text for the survey is "Fewer than 2 nights a week."


Here are some examples:

  • There are fewer cars on the road today.
  • There is less traffic today.
  • There is less humidity in the air this afternoon.
  • There are fewer pogo sticks for sale.


Quick note

The example sentences are all comparisons, but we often drop out some of the details. There are fewer cars on the road today than there were yesterday. Sometimes it's important to include the details, but usually it's OK to omit them.


Your turn: What bugs you most about this survey? Is it the confusing options? The parallelism? Something else?


What's wrong with this Facebook survey?

I recently saw this Facebook survey in my newsfeed. Apparently one of my friends cooks dinner three or four nights a week for her family. Fabulous! So, why did I choose the survey for this month's grammar gaffe? Take a look...



Can you tell what caught my editorial eye about the survey?


Please leave a comment and let me know what you think!


Verbs need subjects

Thank you for your answer, Marcella! I agree that an aches and pains forecast isn't appealing to me. And how does a national site know when my aches or pains might appear? Are they psychic?


Here's the list again:



This list isn't parallel, but we've covered that before. What made me choose this list as June's grammar gaffe is the first item in the list. Severe WHAT threatens the south? Every verb needs a subject, and an adjective just won't do.


If you're ever unsure if a word will work as a subject, just look it up in the dictionary. In addition to definitions, dictionaries include parts of speech for each word. If in doubt, look it up!


What do you use dictionaries for? Scrabble? Pronunciation? Word derivations?


Anything wrong with these links?

I saw this list of links recently:



Is there anything wrong?


Share your guess here!


Random acts of quotation

Thanks, V, for rising to the challenge and answering "Anything wrong with this menu?" There are a couple of things wrong, including your answer!


Here's the graphic:


As V correctly pointed out, there should be a hyphen between "flame" and broiled." Technically, there should also be one between "1/3" and "pound." But, what really got me about the menu was the use of quotation marks.


Quotation marks pop up on signs in the unlikeliest of places. In fact, I found a blog devoted to the topic. Let's try to clear this issue up.


When should you use quotation marks?

Use quotation marks when you are quoting what someone else has said. For example: My manager said, "This proposal has to be perfect," so I'm working late tonight.


That's pretty much it. For people like me who write about language, it is also common to use quotation marks to indicate that we are talking about a word instead of using the word in a sentence. For example: Every time you type "their," check to make sure that you didn't mean to type "they're" or "there."


Confusing usage

Any other use of quotation marks is wrong. And on signs, misusing quotation marks dilutes the intended meaning. It makes people wonder, did someone say that but it isn't true? 


The menu here doesn't cause too much confusion. But, think of the difference between these signs:

  • Free coffee all day
  • "Free" coffee all day


The first one is pretty easy to understand. But what about the second? Is the coffee free but you have to give a donation? Or is it free to the store, but you have to pay for it?


I think some sign-makers use quotation marks to emphasize something. If you know anyone about to do this, please encourage them to use bold or underlining. Or even a different color.


Doesn't this look better? 

Free coffee all day


Have you noticed random acts of quotation? Please share!

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