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Quibble Me This
2005, Q3 (September 19, 2008)
by Melissa Alton Thornton, Senior Member Carolina Chapter

Super Target had it right. Imagine my amazement the first time I saw their sign. Nowhere else did grocery stores or super centers understand the plight and frustration of editors and grammarians alike. Super Target understood the difference between "ten items or less" and "ten items or fewer". The signage above the express lane was clear — the words were "10 items or fewer."

The word "less" means "not as much";fewer means "not as many."
You earn less money by selling fewer products. You use less oil by eating fewer fries.

If you can count individual items, use fewer. If measurement is your criteria, use less.
The store had fewer customers in line. You lose less weight by eating brownie sundaes daily.

Also, fewer refers to plural nouns while less refers to singular nouns.
Allyson had fewer students than her co-teacher. I have less time to study for my test.

Look at the sign the next time you are in the express lane. Did your store get it right?

Test your skills with these two troublesome words. Take the quiz on the Better English web site at http://www.better-english.com/grammar/fewest.htm.

Melissa Alton Thornton can be reached at mathornton at nc dot rr dot com. End of article.

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