Counting and Measuring

rogersgeorge on February 10th, 2017

The words “less” and “fewer” cause problems for some people. I wrote a post about that problem recently. The gist is that when you’re counting something, use “fewer,” and when you’re measuring, use “less.” If you’re not comparing, the words are “number” and “amount.” Here’s an article with a tricky usage:

Deep ocean sediment cores from this period also indicate no changes in glacial activity, based on the amount of oxygen isotopes in the cores.

Isotopes are discrete things that you can count, right? Oxygen has about a dozen of them, from 12O to 24O, (mainly 16O) and molecules and atoms are discrete things, too, right? Why is this sentence correct? Because the authors (whom I believe are Associate Professor of geophysics, University of Leeds, and Associate Professor of Geophysics, University of Leeds) are measuring the size of the collection of these isotopes as if they were a mass, not individual atoms. If the authors wanted to point out that they were distinguishing among the isotopes, they could say “amounts of isotopes.”

Lesson: be alert to what you are saying when you write. These guys did it right.

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Another Lesson about Less and Fewer

rogersgeorge on April 15th, 2016

You might remember an old post about less and few. (I can’t find it right now, or I’d make a link to it.) The gist of the post is that you use few and fewer with things you count, and less with things you measure. Someone pointed out that you use fewer with plurals, and less with singulars. This latter rule works most of the time, but it stumbles on some things that you measure, but you name them as if you were counting. Time falls into this category. You correctly say

I have less time to finish my assignment; about 30 minutes less than I had before.

Here’s an example where it’s correct to use fewer with a singular, though I think you could get away with using less. This is from one of my favorite columnists, Mike Peterson, he of Comic Strip of the Day.

It’s still a good cartoon, however, because, each time a PP clinic closes, that’s one fewer place for women who do seek a safe abortion.

So it’s counting, but only one thing. It qualifies under both rules. You pays your money and you takes your pick.

Bad comic! Bad comic!

rogersgeorge on September 25th, 2012

Normally I find comic artists pretty careful about their use of English, but the other day I ran into one that contains a doozie. And Ed Allison has a generally pretty funny strip. For this one, though, I’d have to slap his hand.

Harrumpf. I can hardly stand to read this.

He even put his mistake in bold. The rule is that when you are counting something, especially if you have a plural involved, you use Fewer! FEWER! Use “less” when you measure an amount, I have less egg on my face than he does.

But hey, it’s a comic, and it’s funny.

In honor of Valentine’s Day—sort of

rogersgeorge on February 14th, 2012

The Oatmeal is a comic I follow, partly because the writer is a grammar curmudgeon, as I am. He also attracts a fair number of like-minded souls who also hate bad grammar, and who aren’t averse to adding the occasional comment. Even though The Oatmeal uses far more profanity than I, he’s correct on a lot of issues, and quite good at explaining grammar. Check out the site.

Recently (I think) he posted a comic called The worst thing about Valentine’s Day. Someone commented using incorrect grammar, and it spawned a series of comments that I thought were worth repeating. I haven’t gotten anyone’s permission to repeat their remarks, so if you are quoted here and don’t like it, let me know, and I’ll remove your portion.

Bobsagetjustcuz22: less long comments, more sexy rumpus

Kannma1717: Fewer long comments.

Paul Nelson Schofield: Less grammar police.

Toasty: *Fewer grammar police, Less grammar *policing.

Corey Danger: If there’s, one thing that, grammar police, hate it’s comma, splices. And sentence. Fragments.

Branrules101: I’m going to need back up for this serious offender.

Mrs. B.: If theres two thing’s that grammar police hate, even more its poor punctuation…. ellipse’s…. apostrophe’s used wrong and incorrect adverb usage.

ostyCollapse: not to mention runon sentences with no capitalization or punctuation or breaks of any kind they just go on and on and on talking about stuff that nobody cares about or can even read let alone discuss intelligently am i right

Can you find all the mistakes?    Happy valentine’s Day to you all.