Friday, October 5, 2007


My wife & I ate at Subway last night following our daughter's Fall Choir Concert. I absolutely and patently refused to eat any of the low-fat sandwiches, for the sign read, "Meals With 6 Grams of Fat or Less." Since grams are quantifiable, we all know this should have read, "Meals With 6 Grams of Fat or FEWER," not "Less." As I simply could not bring myself to order from this grammarically incorrect menu, I opted for something with a higher fat-gram count. Too bad. I didn't need the additional Weight Watchers points.


Lesley (El Zed) said...

Your way of looking at six grams of fat or less, and seeing only the countable number of grams, is understandable.

My view is that it's a quantity, and so I'd be okay with less here.

Less is fine with stats and measurements that denote a quantity of something.

Andy Ray said...

Lesley, no! "Less" is not fine with any kind of measuring. To wit, "It rained less today than yesterday," is perfectly fine. You wouldn't say, "It rained fewer today than yesterday." Fewer what? The sentence never mentioned a quantifiable figure -- i.e. one which can be measured. In other words, the sentence didn't mentioned inches of rain, or centimeters of rain. It simply stated that it rained less today. Fine.

But the minute we start quantifying, we must use fewer. As in, "We received fewer inches of rain today than we did yesterday." We didn't receive LESS inches. That sounds like fingernails on a chalkboard to me. We received FEWER inches. Inches can be counted, so we received fewer.

Lesley (El Zed) said...

Okay, Andy. Here's my reasoning.
And I do understand the difference between 'less' and 'fewer' in their most common applications.

I'm absolutely with you on your first point - that's a given. 'We received less rain today' is, of course, correct. No argument.

We are talking, here, about an amount. Not a countable number of units or items.
I think that is the key point.

We are talking about an amount in 'six grams of fat' also. A quantity.
It's a subtle difference, but we are not talking about the actual grams of fat per se.

Your second phrase, "We received fewer inches of rain today that we did yesterday" is, I admit, a borderline case. And does sound dodgy if you use 'less than', perhaps because there are no numbers involved in this sentence to add weight and credence to the stat rule - though I am clutching at straws here!

But here are two more sentences to look at:
'It's less than a hundred yards away.'
'The book cost less than two dollars.'
Would you swap 'less' for 'fewer' in either example?

Vid said...

Less is the correct way of stating this. The amount of fat is a continuous variable. A sandwich could contain 4.5643 grams of fat as fat content in food does not come in neat even portions of fat per serving.

Andy Ray said...

Lesley, while your examples of the book costing less than two dollars and something being less than a hundred yards away sound correct (and probably are, for that matter), if we use "fewer," we remove any doubt. And yes, "fewer" could be substituted for "less" in either of those examples.

Lindsay said...

That Subway sign has bothered me since it came out. I agree with Andy.

Vid said...

"My wife & I ate at Subway last night following our daughter's Fall Choir Concert."

This is clearly a glass house situation.

Powers said...

"Less" is fine when it's a continuous quantity. Only discrete quantities require "fewer".

Blemished said...

Oh my god. you people are completely insane. You're getting even fatter because you aren't able to take the assault of a simple, and grey-area, grammar error? I would have assumed this must be a joke...

The Hot Dish said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Hot Dish said...

It is amazing that everyone is fighting over the use of "less" or "fewer" and completely ignoring the use of the word "grammarically." There is no such word. The word is "grammatically." To paraphrase Shakespeare, teacher, teach thyself.

Jeab said...

I saw a sign at Wal-Mart saying "10 items or less".
Then "six grams or less" should be the same case.
There are two kinds of grammars: prescriptive and descriptive.
I think, six grams or less could be the prescriptive one.

I am a second language learner of English and I think English grammar is sooooo confusing.