Joining the language police

One of the benefits of learning a foreign language is that it helps you understand more about your own.

But some things can’t be understood, they just have to be learned by rote. Then there are others which have a rule which is easy to understand but seem to make distinctions without making a difference and the requirement to diffentiate between less and few comes into that category.

I know this headline, Less kiwis making the move to Australia , is using the wrong word because it refers to a number not an amount so should have used fewer.

But how do you explain how to remember the difference to someone who doesn’t make the distinction or doesn’t care about it when the sentence still makes sense?

And does it matter or are the language police who defend the distinction between less and few just being pedantic?

3 Responses to Joining the language police

  1. PaulL says:

    It matters in the same way that la and le matters in French. It is wrong to use the wrong one. But you are correct, it doesn’t really change comprehension, it just grates on we pedants.


  2. ray says:

    Countable nouns (ones which have a plural i.e. you can say two …. e.g. dogs, people) use few/fewer/fewest. Uncountable nouns (ones which don’t have a plural e.g. time, petrol) use little/less/least.
    Same rules as for using many vs. much.

    Linguists assure us that usage continually changes and we have to accept it! Many languages don’t make the few/less distinction.


  3. Pique Oil says:

    If your freedom from prison was dependent on the correct usage in a legal document it would matter.
    So if we accept that lawyers can extort enormous sums of money by being pedants, we should expect correct usage. If we don’t expect correct usage then we could have a lot less lawyers.
    Gosh what a difficult decision to make.


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