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# Fewer Vs Less

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Manager
Joined: 03 Dec 2013
Posts: 67
Location: United States (HI)
GMAT 1: 660 Q49 V30
GPA: 3.56

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29 Aug 2014, 10:43
7
I understand if I can count something I use "fewer" and use "less" for something I cannot count (ie, gas, water and etc)
However, ON GMAT, (I honestly don't care what others have to say) if it's percentage, or unit of measure (miles, grams, squarefeet and ect), Do I need to use "fewer" or "less"?

I ran 4 miles fewer than Andy.

We can certainly count how many more miles I ran than Andy did...

I consumed 30% fewer calories than Andy.

We also can count percentage here...

Thanks!
Magoosh GMAT Instructor
Joined: 28 Dec 2011
Posts: 4485

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30 Aug 2014, 11:32
7
4
tae808 wrote:
Hi Mike,

This question came to my mind after working on one of Magoosh problem.

In the "dead-ball" era of 1900-1919, Major League Baseball hitters in both leagues hit an average total of 370 home runs each season, more than 60% percent less than those in the 1920s.

The explanation states: Here, though, we are talking about comparing the "average total" --- the average of several seasons is not guaranteed to be a whole number: it could be a decimal. Therefore, we aren't really counting whole things anymore, so we don't used "fewer"

But you said if I I can count what's being percentized, then I need to use "fewer" which is contrary to the explanation. (I can count how many home runs they hit...)

Dear tae808,
I'm happy to respond. We are starting to get into territory that's at the outer edges of what the GMAT might expect you to know. Admittedly, sometimes I write a question that pushes issues in this region, as I did in that baseball question.

Here's the thing. What does the word "countable" really mean? Let's think carefully about this. The colloquial definition is that "we can count it," but think about that. If we are guaranteed that we can count something, then we are guaranteed that it will come in positive integer quantities. If I buy eggs, the number of eggs will always be a positive integer; if the carton contains part of an egg, that would be disgusting, and I certainly wouldn't count that as part of my purchase. If I work with a group of people, the number of my fellow employees is always a positive integer. This is the deep idea. Having 2/7 of a person or of an egg simply wouldn't make sense.

This is yet another reason that so many units are not countable. If I take a long walk, I could by chance walk exact four miles, but most real world distance fall between the integers. Most real times are not precisely a whole number of hours, etc. It makes perfect sense to talk about a distance of half a mile, or times of a fraction of a second, etc. Thus, even though we are talking about units that, ostensibly, we could count, we are not guaranteed that they are positive integers, and so "countable" doesn't apply to them.

Similarly with averages. Let's consider a school example. Each class has a certain number of students, and students are countable: we are guaranteed beyond a shadow of a doubt that the classrooms have no decimal parts of students actively participating in the classroom. Thus it is perfectly correct to say:
This class has fewer student than that class.
Now, suppose we start taking averages. Suppose there are several four-grade classes and several fifth grade classes. If we start talking about the average fourth-grade class or the average fifth-grade class, we are no longer guaranteed these numbers are integers. Those two averages could be, say, 32.7 and 29.7, so it would be correct to say:
The average number of students in the fifth-grade class is less than that average in the fourth-grade classes.
As with physical units, it may work out by chance that an average comes up neatly to an integer, but we are not guaranteed at the outset that the result will be a positive integer, and this means that it doesn't qualify as countable.

Similarly, if we are talking about percents of averages --- well, if averages are not countable, then percents of averages are not countable, even though percents of individual students would be countable.

To qualify as countable, something must come with the binding guarantee that it will always only come in positive integer quantities, that if it comes in any decimal or fraction part it will cease to be what it is (as a fraction of an egg no longer counts as an egg!)

Does all this make sense?
Mike
_________________
Mike McGarry
Magoosh Test Prep

Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire. — William Butler Yeats (1865 – 1939)
##### General Discussion
Magoosh GMAT Instructor
Joined: 28 Dec 2011
Posts: 4485

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29 Aug 2014, 15:17
5
5
tae808 wrote:
I understand if I can count something I use "fewer" and use "less" for something I cannot count (ie, gas, water and etc)
However, ON GMAT, (I honestly don't care what others have to say) if it's percentage, or unit of measure (miles, grams, squarefeet and ect), Do I need to use "fewer" or "less"?

I ran 4 miles fewer than Andy.

We can certainly count how many more miles I ran than Andy did...

I consumed 30% fewer calories than Andy.

We also can count percentage here...

Thanks!

Dear tae808,
I'm happy to respond.

First of all, for percents, the rule is very easy. A percent of something countable is countable, and a percent of something uncountable is uncountable.
Fewer than 20% of the people are still in the room.
Less than 20% of water is still on the floor.

Now, units of measurement, especially for common measurements are tricky. In general, if the underlying thing measured is uncountable (time, distance, money), treat a quantity with units as uncountable as well. Thus
I ran four miles less than Andy.
The TV costs less than \$600.
I waited for less than 15 minutes.

You see, in all of those, the unit is not the point. Our concern is the underlying concept --- distance, or cost, or time --- all of which are uncountable. If the unit itself were the focus, and not the underlying concept, then we would treat multiple units as countable, but that would be an extremely strange sentence, not one likely to appear on the GMAT.

The "calories" example you provide is particularly intriguing, because, while technically "calories" are a unit, people never talk about the underlying concept. Technically, it is a unit of energy, but most people don't even know that. People just talk about "calories", so the unit itself is the focus, and therefore we would treat the plural unit as countable:
A cookie has fewer calories than a protein shake.

Does all this make sense?
Mike
_________________
Mike McGarry
Magoosh Test Prep

Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire. — William Butler Yeats (1865 – 1939)
Manager
Joined: 03 Dec 2013
Posts: 67
Location: United States (HI)
GMAT 1: 660 Q49 V30
GPA: 3.56

### Show Tags

29 Aug 2014, 15:35
1
mikemcgarry wrote:
tae808 wrote:
I understand if I can count something I use "fewer" and use "less" for something I cannot count (ie, gas, water and etc)
However, ON GMAT, (I honestly don't care what others have to say) if it's percentage, or unit of measure (miles, grams, squarefeet and ect), Do I need to use "fewer" or "less"?

I ran 4 miles fewer than Andy.

We can certainly count how many more miles I ran than Andy did...

I consumed 30% fewer calories than Andy.

We also can count percentage here...

Thanks!

Dear tae808,
I'm happy to respond.

First of all, for percents, the rule is very easy. A percent of something countable is countable, and a percent of something uncountable is uncountable.
Fewer than 20% of the people are still in the room.
Less than 20% of water is still on the floor.

Now, units of measurement, especially for common measurements are tricky. In general, if the underlying thing measured is uncountable (time, distance, money), treat a quantity with units as uncountable as well. Thus
I ran four miles less than Andy.
The TV costs less than \$600.
I waited for less than 15 minutes.

You see, in all of those, the unit is not the point. Our concern is the underlying concept --- distance, or cost, or time --- all of which are uncountable. If the unit itself were the focus, and not the underlying concept, then we would treat multiple units as countable, but that would be an extremely strange sentence, not one likely to appear on the GMAT.

The "calories" example you provide is particularly intriguing, because, while technically "calories" are a unit, people never talk about the underlying concept. Technically, it is a unit of energy, but most people don't even know that. People just talk about "calories", so the unit itself is the focus, and therefore we would treat the plural unit as countable:
A cookie has fewer calories than a protein shake.

Does all this make sense?
Mike

Hi Mike,

This question came to my mind after working on one of Magoosh problem.

In the "dead-ball" era of 1900-1919, Major League Baseball hitters in both leagues hit an average total of 370 home runs each season, more than 60% percent less than those in the 1920s.

The explanation states: Here, though, we are talking about comparing the "average total" --- the average of several seasons is not guaranteed to be a whole number: it could be a decimal. Therefore, we aren't really counting whole things anymore, so we don't used "fewer"

But you said if I I can count what's being percentized, then I need to use "fewer" which is contrary to the explanation. (I can count how many home runs they hit...)
Manager
Joined: 03 Dec 2013
Posts: 67
Location: United States (HI)
GMAT 1: 660 Q49 V30
GPA: 3.56

### Show Tags

30 Aug 2014, 17:51
mikemcgarry wrote:
tae808 wrote:
Hi Mike,

This question came to my mind after working on one of Magoosh problem.

In the "dead-ball" era of 1900-1919, Major League Baseball hitters in both leagues hit an average total of 370 home runs each season, more than 60% percent less than those in the 1920s.

The explanation states: Here, though, we are talking about comparing the "average total" --- the average of several seasons is not guaranteed to be a whole number: it could be a decimal. Therefore, we aren't really counting whole things anymore, so we don't used "fewer"

But you said if I I can count what's being percentized, then I need to use "fewer" which is contrary to the explanation. (I can count how many home runs they hit...)

Dear tae808,
I'm happy to respond. We are starting to get into territory that's at the outer edges of what the GMAT might expect you to know. Admittedly, sometimes I write a question that pushes issues in this region, as I did in that baseball question.

Here's the thing. What does the word "countable" really mean? Let's think carefully about this. The colloquial definition is that "we can count it," but think about that. If we are guaranteed that we can count something, then we are guaranteed that it will come in positive integer quantities. If I buy eggs, the number of eggs will always be a positive integer; if the carton contains part of an egg, that would be disgusting, and I certainly wouldn't count that as part of my purchase. If I work with a group of people, the number of my fellow employees is always a positive integer. This is the deep idea. Having 2/7 of a person or of an egg simply wouldn't make sense.

This is yet another reason that so many units are not countable. If I take a long walk, I could by chance walk exact four miles, but most real world distance fall between the integers. Most real times are not precisely a whole number of hours, etc. It makes perfect sense to talk about a distance of half a mile, or times of a fraction of a second, etc. Thus, even though we are talking about units that, ostensibly, we could count, we are not guaranteed that they are positive integers, and so "countable" doesn't apply to them.

Similarly with averages. Let's consider a school example. Each class has a certain number of students, and students are countable: we are guaranteed beyond a shadow of a doubt that the classrooms have no decimal parts of students actively participating in the classroom. Thus it is perfectly correct to say:
This class has fewer student than that class.
Now, suppose we start taking averages. Suppose there are several four-grade classes and several fifth grade classes. If we start talking about the average fourth-grade class or the average fifth-grade class, we are no longer guaranteed these numbers are integers. Those two averages could be, say, 32.7 and 29.7, so it would be correct to say:
The average number of students in the fifth-grade class is less than that average in the fourth-grade classes.
As with physical units, it may work out by chance that an average comes up neatly to an integer, but we are not guaranteed at the outset that the result will be a positive integer, and this means that it doesn't qualify as countable.

Similarly, if we are talking about percents of averages --- well, if averages are not countable, then percents of averages are not countable, even though percents of individual students would be countable.

To qualify as countable, something must come with the binding guarantee that it will always only come in positive integer quantities, that if it comes in any decimal or fraction part it will cease to be what it is (as a fraction of an egg no longer counts as an egg!)

Does all this make sense?

Mike

Hi Mike,

Thank you so much. I think I understand 95%... But one thing...
What you wrote: "Fewer than 20% of the people are still in the room." is wrong...?
Since there can be 21.5% less people in the room...? Or is it correct since 20% is a whole number...?

THANK YOU SO MUCH!!!
Magoosh GMAT Instructor
Joined: 28 Dec 2011
Posts: 4485

### Show Tags

30 Aug 2014, 18:17
tae808 wrote:
Hi Mike,

Thank you so much. I think I understand 95%... But one thing...
What you wrote: "Fewer than 20% of the people are still in the room." is wrong...?
Since there can be 21.5% less people in the room...? Or is it correct since 20% is a whole number...?

THANK YOU SO MUCH!!!

Dear tae808,
When we have "P% of A", as long as A is countable, then "P% of A" is countable. People are countable, so "percent of people" is countable. It doesn't matter at all that the percentage itself often will be a non-integer. That's not the issue. We are not talking about the mathematical percentage itself. We are talking about a certain "percent of people," and since people are countable, so is that percent.
Thus,
Fewer than 20% of the people are still in the room
is correct.

Does this make sense?
Mike
_________________
Mike McGarry
Magoosh Test Prep

Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire. — William Butler Yeats (1865 – 1939)
Intern
Joined: 05 Jul 2014
Posts: 3

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07 Dec 2014, 00:41
[color=#ffff00][color=#f26522][/color][/color]
mikemcgarry wrote:
tae808 wrote:
Hi Mike,

Thank you so much. I think I understand 95%... But one thing...
What you wrote: "Fewer than 20% of the people are still in the room." is wrong...?
Since there can be 21.5% less people in the room...? Or is it correct since 20% is a whole number...?

THANK YOU SO MUCH!!!

Dear tae808,
When we have "P% of A", as long as A is countable, then "P% of A" is countable. People are countable, so "percent of people" is countable. It doesn't matter at all that the percentage itself often will be a non-integer. That's not the issue. We are not talking about the mathematical percentage itself. We are talking about a certain "percent of people," and since people are countable, so is that percent.
Thus,
Fewer than 20% of the people are still in the room
is correct.

Does this make sense?
Mike

Hi Mike,

Thank you very much for the explanation. It clarifies all my queries regarding the use of percentages for the countable and non-countable quantities.

However, I have a small query in the below statement - Is'nt the pronoun 'those' should be 'that', because it is referring to a singular noun (average). Actually, those looks confusing to me because it appears to modify home-runs, in that case 'fewer than XX%" would be appropriate.

In the "dead-ball" era of 1900-1919, Major League Baseball hitters in both leagues hit an average total of 370 home runs each season, more than 60% percent less than those in the 1920s.
SVP
Joined: 14 Apr 2009
Posts: 2271
Location: New York, NY

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24 Dec 2014, 09:41
We cover this topic of "greater than" vs "more than" vs "less than" vs fewer than" in this blog post here: http://www.gmatpill.com/more-than-vs-gr ... ewer-than/

The topic itself is not all that common on the GMAT exam, but if you are curious to know we've developed a good framework of rules from which you can apply to many examples and come up with the correct usage.
Intern
Joined: 01 Jul 2019
Posts: 8

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02 Aug 2019, 05:23
Hey !!

Can you explain why time, money distance is uncountable . I can easily count all of them using their units (hours, kilometers, dollars) .

Still we use Less here instead of fewer as per the grammar rules.

Thanks
Re: Fewer Vs Less   [#permalink] 02 Aug 2019, 05:23