1. victo
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    victo Active Member

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    fewer or less than?

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by victo, Jun 7, 2015.

    Would fewer than/less than be correct here? I say fewer than, because countable employees are mentioned:

    Fewer than 10% of the employees participated in the program.

    And:

    Fewer than 5% of the patients was/were affected. (I say were.)

    Thanks,
     
  2. No-Name Slob
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    No-Name Slob Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    10% of a number that's unknown is not really countable, though.

    I could be wrong, but with percentages, I always say "less than."

    I'd say "fewer than 50 employees ... " or "less than ten percent of employees ... "
     
  3. Aaron Smith
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    Aaron Smith Contributing Member Contributor

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    Less than.

    Less for singular, fewer for plural.
     
  4. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think you might need to figure out your was/were issue, b/c according to CMOS the fewer/less distinction should be based on the nouns. Use "less" for singular nouns, "fewer" for plural nouns.

    ETA: Aaron beat me!
     
  5. victo
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    victo Active Member

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    Thanks, all.

    Aaron, you said, "Less for singular, fewer for plural." Could you cite a couple of examples? I don't quite understand. Sorry.
     
  6. Aaron Smith
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    Aaron Smith Contributing Member Contributor

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    "Jonathan had less money than Daniel."
    "Daniel had fewer sisters than Jonathan."
    "Robert had less empathy than Ted Bundy."
    "Ted Bundy had fewer brain cells than Albert Einstein."

    Does that suffice?

    Edit: Next time tag (@victo) or quote me. I'll see it faster that way.
     
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  7. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    To clarify the point being made concerning singular and plural, % is a collective and collectives are singular.

    The employees in reference are behind a prepositional wall. They do not rule.

    No prepositional wall and now "100" serves as a numerical adjective modifying employees, which is a plural.
     
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  8. No-Name Slob
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    This might help make it more definitive:

    use less with a plural noun that is a mass, a measurement, or a total, especially in expressions following less than:
    less than two hours
    less than $30
    less than five miles
    less than three gallons
    a total population of less than five million
    less than 10 percent of them are now nomadic
    less than half of all Roma children regularly attend school
     
  9. victo
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    victo Active Member

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    Very helpful.

    Thanks, everyone.
     
  10. The Mad Regent
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    The Mad Regent Contributing Member

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    It's really the difference between formalities. Fewer than sounds more formal than less than. That's how I would peg it, but either say the same thing meaning they're both correct.
     
  11. Stacy C
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    Stacy C Banned

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    There can also be a few gray areas, depending on word meaning and usage.

    If I have nine one-dollar bills, I have fewer than ten dollars (count). I also have less than ten dollars (amount).
     
  12. The Mad Regent
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    The Mad Regent Contributing Member

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    Ooooooh. It's all so complicated! :supergrin:
     
  13. Stacy C
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    Stacy C Banned

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    That's why we writers make the big bucks.
     
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  14. No-Name Slob
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    HA!
     
  15. Aaron Smith
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    Aaron Smith Contributing Member Contributor

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    My ramen supply approves.
     

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