Fewer vs Less

colorful cookies with fruit on top

Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

Learning the difference between fewer and less is actually easier than you may think. The key is whether you can count the object or thing you are talking about.

Use fewer with objects you can count.
Use less with objects you can’t count.

For example, if you have a plate of six cookies in front of you, and then you eat one, you would say, “I have fewer than six cookies on my plate.” You use fewer because you can count the cookies individually.

However, if you have a full glass of milk with your cookies, and then you drink some milk, you would say, “I have less than a full glass of milk.” You use less because milk is a mass noun, which means you can’t count it. (For a refresher on mass nouns, check out this Grammar Party post.)

However—no big surprise here—there is an exception to this rule. When you’re talking about time, money, or distance, you are allowed to use less, even though you can count their specific units.

Time: If you start watching a one-hour television show, and then your friend asks you fifteen minutes later when it will be over, you would say, “The show will end in less than one hour.”

Money: If you start off with fifty dollars, but then you spend some, you’d say, “I have less than fifty dollars now.”

Distance: If the cookie store is one mile away from your house, and you have walked three blocks already, you would have less than one mile to go.

Quiz
To test your skills, fill in the blank with less or fewer. The answers are at the bottom.

  1. There is ____ than one mile left on the jogging route.
  2. Shelley is a smart kid. She got no _____ than four As on her report card.
  3. The world would be a better place if _____ violence existed.
  4. After that shopping spree, Shelley has _____ than twenty dollars left.
  5.  _____ than five people finished the cookie-eating contest.

Answers: 1. less 2. fewer 3. less 4. less 5. fewer

Erin Servais is a book editor and author coach serving women author-entrepreneurs. To learn how she can help you with your next project, check out her website: Dot and Dash LLC. You can read her blog about fiction writing here: Dot and Dash blog.

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Forgo or Forego?

Forgo forego.png

Forgo and forego look very similar, so it makes sense that this is a common spelling error. In this post, I will give you their definitions and explain a mnemonic device to help you remember the difference.

definition of forgo

Merriam-Webster Unabridged

Forgo (without the E) means to go without something. You give something up and you refuse it.

Here are a couple examples of forgo in a sentence:

  • Declaring a diet, the rat says he will forgo cheese.
  • Because she broke her foot, Nancy forwent dancing.

Forwent, as you can see from the second example, is the past-tense version of forgo.

definition of forego

Merriam-Webster Unabridged

Forego (with the E) means to go before something. You may recognize this word from the popular term foregone conclusion, which means a conclusion that someone can predict before the action happens.

Here are a couple examples of forego in a sentence:

  • The introduction forgoes the first chapter.
  • The contest forewent the medal ceremony.

Forewent is the past tense of forego.

Mnemonic device: To remember the difference between these words, link the word before with forego.

Forego means to go before something.

 Remember that and there are two fewer words you can get confused!

Erin Servais is a book editor and author coach focusing on women author-entrepreneurs and their publishing goals. To learn more about her business and how she can help you, click the link: Dot and Dash LLC.

Tmesis

girl with hand covering her mouth

What-the-frig-ever is a tmesis?

Fan-freaking-tastic! Whoopde-damn-doo!

These are examples of tmesis. Tmesis is when a word is divided into parts, and another word is inserted inside of it, often for comic effect or emphasis. It comes from the Greek tmesis, meaning “to cut.”

A classic example of this is from the Shakespearean play Richard II: “How-heinous-ever it be.”

Another example is a-whole-nother, which often gets decried as being poor English. What-the-heck-ever. Here’s what Merriam-Webster has to say in defense of this word.

Erin Servais is an abso-bloody-lutely good editor. To learn how she can help you with your next editing project, check out her website: Dot and Dash site.

Trick-or-Treater OR Trick or Treater?

trick or treat photo

I don’t care about your stupid mask, lady. Put the candy in the bag.

How do you spell the name of those adorable (menacing) little children (vagrants) who knock on your door asking for (demanding) candy on Halloween night? Is it “trick-or-treaters” or “trick or treaters”? Hyphens or no hyphens?

The answer is: hyphens. The correct way to spell it is “trick-or-treater.”

But what about “trick or treat,” you say? Hyphens or no hyphens there? This one is a bit more complicated.

Let’s look at the two ways you can use “trick or treat,” as a verb and as a noun.

Verb: Sally dressed up as an amoeba to trick-or-treat.

Noun: As Sally dragged her candy sack home, she thought the trick or treat was successful.

When I wrote “trick-or-treat” as a verb, I used hyphens. Hyphens are always the answer when you use it as a verb. But when written as a noun, “trick or treat” can go either way, says our friends at Merriam-Webster:

screen-shot-2018-10-26-at-11-47-57-am.png

Now go forth and eat candy, friends! A happy trick or treat to all!

Erin Servais is a book editor who specializes in young adult literature. She also has a sweet tooth. To learn more about how she can help you with your writing project, visit her website.

Woah vs. Whoa

flower cat

Well, how obviously amazing is this cat?!

Well, how obviously amazing!

That’s my mnemonic device to remember how to spell “whoa.”

Well
How
Obviously
Amazing

It works because something that is obviously amazing would make you stop and say “whoa.”

It is common to misspell this as “woah,” with the H at the end. Don’t feel bad if that’s what you used to do. I know a certain editor who writes a certain grammar blog who may or may not have also made this mistake. For years. We’re only human . . . even the editors among us (though I suspect authors sometimes think otherwise). And now you know the correct way to spell it. Well, how obviously amazing is that?

Erin Servais is a longtime book editor who is friendly and won’t make you feel dumb, even if you make a silly spelling mistake. To learn more about her services, visit her website: www.dotanddashllc.com

* Okay. Technically . . . the Oxford English Dictionary lists “woah” as a secondary spelling. However, Merriam-Webster has come out publicly against this spelling, and I have personally been dinged rather embarrassingly in public for using it, so I really suggest you stick with “whoa.”