Kim Ness: “I promise not to make a habit of writing you, but when you bring up grammar, I find I cannot (a real word, although not used much any more) keep quiet. What about less taxes? Every time I hear a politician promise less taxes, I cringe. I think it ought to be fewer taxes… and that’s right if you count one tax, two tax, three tax etc. But what (most) politicians are trying to say is lower dollars paid in taxes, so that makes me think that maybe I’ve been wrong, and that less taxes is correct. Any thoughts?

Less tax, lower taxes, fewer separate kinds of taxes (New York alone has, like, a million of them). No?

Steve Williams: “You say: ‘Fewer is for things you can count — fewer calories, fewer airplanes, fewer hairs, fewer fat cats, fewer pundits, fewer pedants. Less sand, fewer rocks! Less money, fewer mutual fund choices!’

“You can’t count money?”

Fewer wise-asses.

But seriously, you rarely hear people say “one money, two monies, three monies,” whereas forest rangers are forever saying things like, “one tree, two trees, three trees.” So: fewer dollars, less currency; fewer scents, less perfume.

Michael Rothstein: “Isn’t $90 $10 *less* than $100? Wouldn’t “$10 fewer” sound kind of dumb?”

It would indeed. Ten dollars is less money than $100. And $90 is fewer dollars than $100.

Anonymous: “As a retired English teacher, I am called to expand upon your usage lesson. ‘Less’ can also be used with things that can be counted if those things are considered one unit. An example: ‘Fifty thousand dollars is less than one million dollars.’ Question: what should the grocery-store signs read — ‘Ten items or less’ or ‘Ten items or fewer’?”

“Ten or fewer,” but no grocery store wants to seem highfalutin. Less of a common touch, fewer patrons.

Monday: Shorting a Dying Stock

 

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