"Less" and "Fewer," Does It Matter?

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mso489

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Feb 21, 2013
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Language changes, and usage changes, so you have to accept some errors that are also just changes in usage. Still, for anyone who has been around long enough to cultivate a particular usage, the "wrong" diction can really grate. Even seven figure broadcast anchors are tending toward using less instead of fewer. What the hell am I talking about? Fewer used to be used to describe things that are countable, that occur in units. You don't say less people; you say fewer people. Less is used for quantities that come in a flow, like less cream in your coffee, or less gas in your car. When this old rule is ignored, it clunks for me like a dropped automobile differential. I have less respect for most bad usage, and admire the fewer speakers who get it "right."
 

jvnshr

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Sep 4, 2015
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I was taught British English during my elementary school years, then I changed the school and we were learning American English. I realized that the difference was not only the pronunciation, but also the grammar. Then I grew up, visited Dubai and met some Indians, since then I stopped caring because English is not my native language. I may make mistakes, I was feeling bad when I was making them a decade or so ago. But I really appreciate people who know their native languages really well.

Used to care. Then noticed I make mistakes knowing the usage. It's like articles. I spent my first 12 years in Korea. In Korean language, there aren't any articles. Spent last 41 years in US. I still skip out on the articles number of times in every post.

I lived in Korea for 4 years, learned Korean language for a year. It was very easy for me to learn as the grammar is very similar to my native language.
 

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Casual

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Oct 3, 2019
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I couldn’t care fewer.

But seriously, even though language changes, it is sad when it changes for reasons of ignorance or carelessness rather than a careful expression of new ideas and concepts.

Carelessness as a driver of culture is a sign of decay, and it is something up with which I will not put.
 

BarrelProof

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Mar 29, 2020
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Whoa whoa whoa, hold the phone...



Are you telling me that all of those math teachers that kept telling me “<“ meant “less than,” even when clearly used quantitatively, were wrong?!

I knew I hated them, I just had no idea why. It all makes sense, now, and I have way fewer respect for them...
 

cshubhra

Preferred Member
You are confusing between continuous and discreet.

Example of continuous
  • 2 oz of tobacco is less than 4 oz of tobacco
Example of discreet
  • One pipe is fewer than two

See the difference.

When a teacher says 4 is less than 5 because there are infinite number of numbers between 4 and 5

Whoa whoa whoa, hold the phone...



Are you telling me that all of those math teachers that kept telling me “<“ meant “less than,” even when clearly used quantitatively, were wrong?!

I knew I hated them, I just had no idea why. It all makes sense, now, and I have way fewer respect for them...
[/QUOTE][/QUOTE]
 

sablebrush52

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Jun 15, 2013
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Clear and accurate language matters to me. For example, when I'm working on a show I often get review notes. When those notes are framed in ambiguous language I can't execute revisions correctly. This slows me down, and adds to costs. So I'm demanding when it comes to notes. When I'm supervising or directing on a show I use very specific language concerning the changes I require, and the notes had better reflect this. I no longer allow production personnel to deliver my review notes without my first looking them over. If someone doesn't deliver my notes verbatim, they get assigned to a different job where they can't add to the general chaos that is production.

I'll give you an example regarding how imprecise language can cause problems. Some years back I was working on a show where the written description for a character's acting response was written using a colloquialism. The phrase was "her face lit up with delight". When we got back the animation from the overseas studio they had animated the character's face lighting up like a light bulb. Since the damned script had that phrase written it it, we were obliged to pay to have the animation redone.

Over the years I've witnessed hundreds of instances of incompetent delivery of crucial information and the resulting chaos. Most people I've met are at best indifferent communicators who seem to think that because they know what they mean the rest of us will somehow magically comprehend their incoherence.

That clear enough?
 
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BarrelProof

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You are confusing between continuous and discreet.

Example of continuous
  • 2 oz of tobacco is less than 4 oz of tobacco
Example of discreet
  • One pipe is fewer than two

See the difference.

When a teacher says 4 is less than 5 because there are infinite number of numbers between 4 and 5

Are there infinite numbers between 1 and 2? Because it seems like that might apply to your pipe statement...

What about when dealing with the integers 4 and 5? The integer 4 must still be less than 5, no? Yet there are no integers between the two...?
 

cshubhra

Preferred Member
I will try to answer without making a long essay about it.

First semantics... @mso489 posted about semantics. I learnt the language using similar semantics and IMO mathematics uses similar semantics. Having said that semantics of a language evolve, so I don’t have an opinion on that.

Your post was about mathematics.Assuming we are still using MSO’s semantics...

A number also needs to have a context to be useful.In this specific case we are using the concept of a discreet variable or a continuous variable as a context.Continuous variables can take all possible values in the domain. For the tobacco example, you can have 2 oz, but you can also have 2.13674321 oz, or for that matter any value as long as you have the means of measuring it. In the semantic usage of continuous variables, you use “less”, etc

Now let’s go to the concept of discreet variables. These can only take certain states in the domain. In the example of pipes, you can have 1 pipe, 2 pipes but you cannot have 1.1456 pipes. That does not make sense. Semantically you would use words that count like “fewer”

Finally let’s take the case of a math teacher teaching arithmetic. In most cases, the concept of numbers is taught using a number line. So there is an implied context ... numbers are continuous and therefore the words “less than”

Mathematics is absolute... but language semantics change, so if you are using different semantics, then the discussion would not end. However the fun part is all of us are understanding each other “mostly” so the discussion is purely academic.

Are there infinite numbers between 1 and 2? Because it seems like that might apply to your pipe statement...

What about when dealing with the integers 4 and 5? The integer 4 must still be less than 5, no? Yet there are no integers between the two...?
 

bnichols23

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Mar 13, 2018
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To quote my dear old grandfather (more later elsewhere). "Right is right & wrong isn't." Is you is, or is you ain't, IOW.

(BTW, yes, my grandfather was being only slightly devilish when he said it.)
 
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Casual

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Oct 3, 2019
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Discrete! Discreet is the sort of packaging I hope my tobacco comes in, to avoid too much customs scrutiny.

I'll give you an example regarding how imprecise language can cause problems. Some years back I was working on a show where the written description for a character's acting response was written using a colloquialism. The phrase was "her face lit up with delight".
I also speak two languages, English for my personal use, and International Business English for work. Your example is indicative. To cooperate with others in International Business English, one must strip away all metaphor, simile, idiom, and cultural reference. The remaining language is bare and soulless, but efficient and clear.
 

cshubhra

Preferred Member
You are indeed correct!

Discrete! Discreet is the sort of packaging I hope my tobacco comes in, to avoid too much customs scrutiny.


I also speak two languages, English for my personal use, and International Business English for work. Your example is indicative. To cooperate with others in International Business English, one must strip away all metaphor, simile, idiom, and cultural reference. The remaining language is bare and soulless, but efficient and clear.
 
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