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by Peter Moskos

May 31, 2011

Less/Fewer

I not a fan of arbitrary grammar rules. And now I'm going to bore you with one.

I don't like rules for rules' sake (eg: split infinitives, ending sentences in preposition, etc.) Along with being based in some bizarre Latin-lover's 19th-century wet dream, such rules get in the way of style. Rules are supposed to clarify and--to a lesser but still important extent--tell you how not to sound stupid.

I've always wondered about the old less/fewer distinction. People generally say less for everything. I couldn't figure out if it matters. As I understand it, "fewer" is for things you can count (like anything in the plural); "less" is for everything else. Fewer liberals; less intelligence. Because you can say "two liberals," but you can't say "two intelligence." Yeah, "less liberal" has a different meaning that "less liberals" (when it should be fewer), but so what? There's still no ambiguity.

Once again, Vice Magazine comes to the rescue. And this time not with nudity and/or slutty American Apparel ads. From the ever important Department of Dos & Don't comes this Grammar Don't:
Momentarily sidestepping the crotch shorts, public writing project, and twin loneliness mascots, nothing says “I know less than three black people” more than a Coors Light hat that was pre-tattered at the time of purchase.
Really? How much do three black people know?

1 comment:

Kyle said...

Not sure, but if each of them bought one of those hats...

(or something)