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Less Than vs. Fewer Than — What's the Difference?

By Tayyaba Rehman & Fiza Rafique — Published on October 9, 2023
"Less than" is used for uncountable quantities, while "fewer than" is for countable items.
Less Than vs. Fewer Than — What's the Difference?

Difference Between Less Than and Fewer Than


Key Differences

"Less than" and "fewer than" are comparative phrases that are used to indicate a quantity that is not as much as a certain number, but they are used in different contexts. "Less than" is generally applied to uncountable nouns or those that do not have a plural. For example, when talking about money, time, or distance, "less than" is appropriate. In statements like "less than a mile" or "less than an hour," the items being compared aren't individually counted.
On the other hand, "fewer than" is specifically for countable nouns or things that can be individually numbered. If you can count the items one by one, "fewer than" becomes the suitable choice. For instance, "fewer than ten apples" or "fewer than five cars" are correct because apples and cars are countable.
It's common to see "less than" being colloquially used where "fewer than" is grammatically correct, but for formal writing and communication, maintaining the distinction is vital. A supermarket sign reading "10 items or less" might be understood, but "10 items or fewer" is technically more accurate.
In essence, while both "less than" and "fewer than" are used to compare quantities, their use is determined by the nature of the noun they are describing. The main guideline is to discern if the noun in question is countable or not, and then choose the phrase that aligns with that classification.

Comparison Chart

Type of Nouns

Uncountable nouns.
Countable nouns.


Money, time, distance.
Apples, cars, books.

Common Usage

"Less than a minute."
"Fewer than five apples."

Grammatical Correctness

Used correctly with singular nouns without a plural form.
Used correctly with plural nouns.

Colloquial Misuse

Often wrongly used in place of "fewer than."
Rarely misused in place of "less than."

Compare with Definitions

Less Than

Used with singular nouns without plural forms.
There's less than a liter of milk left.

Fewer Than

Refers to a countable reduction in quantity.
Fewer than half the attendees showed up.

Less Than

Refers to a shorter span of time.
The event lasted less than an hour.

Fewer Than

Conveys not reaching a countable number.
Fewer than ten people knew the secret.

Less Than

Conveys a degree or level not reached.
The temperature is less than 32°F.

Fewer Than

Used for indicating a smaller number of countable items.
There are fewer than 20 students in class.

Less Than

Describes a shorter distance.
The store is less than a mile away.

Fewer Than

Describes a deficit in countable entities.
We received fewer than 100 applications.

Less Than

Used for indicating a smaller amount of something uncountable.
She has less than $50 in her wallet.

Fewer Than

Used with plural nouns.
He made fewer than five mistakes.

Common Curiosities

Is "10 items or less" grammatically correct?

It's commonly used, but "10 items or fewer" is more accurate.

Is it okay to use "less than" with money amounts?

Yes, as money amounts are considered uncountable.

Are the rules for "less than" and "fewer than" flexible in spoken English?

Colloquially, many people interchange them, but it's best to be accurate.

Which phrase describes a smaller amount of water?

Use "less than" since water is uncountable.

Can I use "fewer than" with time references?

Only if it refers to countable units, like "fewer than five hours."

Why is the distinction important?

For clarity and precision in communication, especially in formal contexts.

Can I use "less than" with countable nouns?

For formal correctness, use "fewer than" with countable nouns.

How do I decide between "less" and "fewer" without "than"?

The same rules apply. Use "less" for uncountable and "fewer" for countable.

What if I'm unsure about the noun's countability?

Research the noun or lean on the side of caution by restructuring your sentence.

Are "less than" and "fewer than" modern distinctions?

The distinction has historical roots, but awareness has grown in modern times.

What's the rule for using "less" or "fewer" with percentages?

It depends on what you're counting. "Less than 50% of the water" but "fewer than 50% of the apples."

Are there exceptions to the "less than" vs. "fewer than" rules?

In everyday language, you might find exceptions, but the given rules are standard for formal usage.

Do other languages have similar distinctions?

It varies by language. Some maintain the distinction, while others don't.

Can "fewer than" be used for liquids?

Only if you're counting units, like "fewer than five bottles of water."

Are there phrases that can replace both "less than" and "fewer than"?

"Not as many as" can sometimes work, but context is essential.

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Author Spotlight

Written by
Tayyaba Rehman
Tayyaba Rehman is a distinguished writer, currently serving as a primary contributor to As a researcher in semantics and etymology, Tayyaba's passion for the complexity of languages and their distinctions has found a perfect home on the platform. Tayyaba delves into the intricacies of language, distinguishing between commonly confused words and phrases, thereby providing clarity for readers worldwide.
Co-written by
Fiza Rafique
Fiza Rafique is a skilled content writer at, where she meticulously refines and enhances written pieces. Drawing from her vast editorial expertise, Fiza ensures clarity, accuracy, and precision in every article. Passionate about language, she continually seeks to elevate the quality of content for readers worldwide.

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