Counting or Measuring?

rogersgeorge on September 26th, 2017
We use “few” for counting, which is a number, and “less” for measuring, which refers to amounts. But you have room for ambiguity sometimes—referring to time, for instance, and distances. Depending on what you’re saying, either way can work.

Here, is Mr. Tinkerson counting the number of sheets or measuring the amount of paper?

Either way makes sense. Same thing when you’re referring to time. Yes, we count the hours, but it took less than three hours to give blood Saturday. Since time is continuous, you can measure it as well as count the units. Same thing for distance.

So be careful, and think about whether you’re measuring or counting.

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Maybe He Should Read More

rogersgeorge on September 22nd, 2017

Sometimes we get idiomatic expressions wrong, especially if you don’t read much. These types of mistakes are mainly mondegreens, language that’s misheard, but plenty clear when you read it. I already wrote about this; here’s the link. And here’s today’s example of egregious English, from a strip named Daddy’s Home:

PS—Since I mentioned mondegreens, here’s a completely unrelated comic with a mondegreen that’s new to me. Look at the name of the cheese store. Argyle Sweater. (Check the comments, too.)

 

Getting Figuratively Literally Correct

rogersgeorge on August 30th, 2017

Here’s the comic, Dustin:

Dustin - 08/29/2017

So. A little reminder: Literally means it actually happened; figuratively means it didn’t actually happen, just something like it happened. In informal speech we tend to use “literally” as a way to emphasize what we’re saying. That’s okay, but when you’re writing to explain something, use the correct word.

I suppose in that last panel she could have said, “You both are literally annoying me.”

I must add that I could have left “literally” out of the title of this post, and the title would still be literally correct, and I could have put an “and” between the words and it would also be literally correct. And maybe easier to read, even.

And so we come to the hidden lesson here: if something is so, it is also literally so. Hence the word “literally” is often unnecessary, especially in expository writing.

I’ve Mentioned Fluff Before

rogersgeorge on August 14th, 2017

Actually several times over the past several years. (Search on redundan or fluff to see more.) Extra words go contrary to my rule about good expository writing, to be concise. So I suppose I don’t really need to mention it again, but this Wrong Hands comic has some good examples of what not to do. Besides, repetition is the mother of learning, right?

Someone Gets Fewer and Less Right!

rogersgeorge on August 10th, 2017

It’s even in the punchline, so you can read the whole Pajama Diaries comic with a clear conscience!

Remember the rule? With things you measure, you use “less” and with things you count, you use “fewer.”

Pajama Diaries - 08/07/2017