Fewer People are Less Concerned About The Difference Between "Less" and "Fewer"

There seems to be confusion about when to use the word less and when to use the word fewer. Fewer should be used when you are talking about things that can be counted. Grammar Girl calls them “count nouns.”

  • He took three pencils and left fewer than four on her desk. 

Less is used when you are talking about things that cannot necessarily be individually counted. Grammar Girl calls those “mass nouns.”

  • If he used less sarcasm, he might have more friends.

Of course, we are talking about the English language, so there are exceptions. The word less is typically used for measurements of time, money, and distance.

  • He had less than four hours of work left before his vacation.
An interesting fact is that the signs in the grocery store for “10 items or less” is actually grammatically incorrect because you can count the items you put on the grocery belt (count nouns). To be grammatically correct, it should be “10 items or fewer.” That is one way to remember the difference (if remembering horrible mistakes helps you remember how it really should be). There is a belief, however, that in less formal writing, “10 items or less” sounds less stuffy, so is appropriate to use. Working for lawyers, however, has trained me that no writing is less formal, so I’m sticking with the “rule” and believing that all grocery stores are wrong! 

Grammar Giggles – TV Schedule

One of the funniest parts about this television schedule I found in a hotel room last weekend is that my granddaughter who is in the third grade is the one who found it. Perhaps she could get a job proofreading for the Hampton Inn!

Commas–More is Not Better

Commas are a mark of punctuation that seems to confuse a lot of people. Here are some common comma issues:
  • Commas may be needed to set off a nonessential description. For instance, when I refer to “my grandson Jasper,” there is no comma between “grandson” and “Jasper” because if I just said “my grandson,” you wouldn’t know which of my three grandsons I was talking about. If I only had one grandson, I could set it off with commas because I could take that name out of the sentence and it wouldn’t change the meaning. If I was saying something about “President of the United States, Barack Obama,” the comma is OK because if you deleted his proper name, you would still know who I was talking about. If it doesn’t change the meaning of the sentence to take it out and the sentence still makes sense, use commas. If you need that language for the sentence to make sense, take the comma(s) out.
  • With dates, the proper rule is to set off the year in complete dates with commas. “He started on February 23, 2011, in his new position.”
  • Just because serial commas are correct does not mean that every time the word “and” appears, it should have a comma in front of it.  
  • A comma’s intent is not to be used each time you would take a breath or pause in reading the writing. While that may be a good guide, it is not a good rule.
  • Some words are always preceded and followed by commas: 
    • i.e. (that is)
    • e.g. (for example)
    • etc.
    • et al. (when it follows two or more names)
Commas have their place, just not necessarily as many places as people seem to want to put them. 

 

Grammar Giggles – Bus Signs

Several people sent this to me, so it was obviously time to share it. Bus signs are good for making money for the bus companies, but please have someone proofread before the signs are shared with the public. Please!

Grammar Giggles – Firffighters

Thanks to my friend Caryn in California. I’ve looked at this several times to make sure it wasn’t just that the bottom of the “e” rubbed off, but it looks to me like it is intentionally a “f.” I’m thinking that California saved a ton of money by leaving the bottom line off.

Who is That to Which You Refer?

Who and that are used when referring to people. Who is for a person or the individuality of a group and that is used when you’re talking about a class or type.

Which and that refer to places, objects, and animals. Which introduces nonessential clauses which could be removed from the sentence and not change its basic meaning, and that introduces essential clauses.

                Keith’s car, which is a red sports car, was stolen last week.

                Keith’s car that was stolen is a red sports car.

For my animal loving friends, you will be happy to note who is now often used when a pet is identified by gender or by name.

It is also now appropriate to use either which or that to introduce an essential clause. Which is preferred when (1) there are two or more parallel essential clauses in the same sentence, (2) thathas already been used in the sentence, or (3) the essential clause is introduced by this . . . which, that . . . which, these . . . which, or those . . . which.

Mary is working in a law office which is what her education has prepared her for and which was her dream job all through high school.

That is a restaurant which you must try.

Quickies – Capitals, Colons, and More

Time for a few quickies.

  • Is Internet Capitalized? I’ve seen it both ways, but Associated Press and the Chicago Manual of Style say that the Internet, as “one big specific network that people visit,” should be capitalized. The Gregg Reference Manual says the capitalized Internet is the “global system of linked computer networks,” while the lowercased internet refers to local area networks linked to each other but not to the Internet. So they all agree that when you are talking about the Internet that is more than linked local area networks, capitalize it.
  • What About the Web and Website? The Web is short for the World Wide Web, again a specific thing, so Web would be capitalized–at least for Associated Press. The Chicago Manual of Style disagrees and recently said that the word web standing alone may be lowercased. However, website is a more generic term that can refer to any number of different sites, so it is not capitalized. Just to keep things really confusing, the Gregg Reference Manual says that Web site is commonly two words with Web capitalized and until the World Wide Web loses its capitalization through popular usage, Web site should be capitalized. Since I’m primarily a Gregg user, I guess I will use Web site. Compound words that include web (such as webcam and webinar) are not capitalized.
  • How Many Spaces After a Colon? Again, back in the old days, there were always two spaces after a colon. Now that we are using more proportional type and using only one space after a period, one space is more appropriate. 
  • When is Next Wednesday? Since people understand different words different ways, it is always confusing to use the term next Wednesday. Does that mean the next Wednesday after today or the Wednesday in the next week? As it is so confusing, best practice is not to use next in this context, but to be more specific about what day you are actually talking about. Instead of next Wednesday, it is more clear to say Wednesday, February 13, or Wednesday a week from tomorrow.
  • Hint for Possessives. As you may know, misuse of apostrophes to make plural words possessive is my biggest pet peeve. I will admit that sometimes I have issues figuring it out–particularly when the base word is a bit unusual. In those cases, I substitute the problem word for a more generic word. For example, if I’m trying to decide if the name Andrews is plural, I might substitute Smith. So in the sentence I knew the Andrews car was in the neighborhood by the rumble of the stereo, I substitute Andrews with Smith, and I know that the Smith car would not be possessive, so my sentence is fine the way it is. If my example was I knew Mr. Andrews’ car was in the neighborhood . . . and I replaced it with I knew Mr. Smith’s car was in the neighborhood . . . I know that it should be possessive. Make your substitute word something simple to make possessive and it will help you make your word correct.
If you have a quickie question or a tip that helps you remember a grammar rule, send it to me (proofthatblog@gmail.com) and we’ll answer it for you and others who probably have the same questions or share your tip so that we can all learn something.

None is Singular, None is Plural, None is Both

The word none can be singular or plural, depending on the number of the noun it is referring to. Back in my 4th grade English class, none was always singular. Again, grammar rules have changed and modern thought is that it can be either singular or plural. One way to decide is when you can use not one, then none is singular. If you mean not any, then none is plural.

  • None of the directions he gave to get to the grocery store is accurate (meaning that not one of the different directions he gave to get to the grocery store is accurate)
  • None of the directions he gave are accurate (meaning that not any of the directions he has ever given are accurate)
Confused yet? How about these:

  • None of his electronic devices is set up correctly (not one of his devices)
  • Of all his electronic devices, none are using Wi-Fi (not any of his devices)
Whether you use is or are will let your reader know what you mean.  By saying “None of his electronic devices is set up correctly,” your reader should understand that you mean that not one of his many devices is set up correctly. When you say “Of all his electronic devices, none are using Wi-Fi,” your reader understands that you mean that not any of his many devices are using Wi-Fi. The difference is relatively minor and regardless of which way you use it, some people (who learned that none was always singular back in 4th grade) will try to correct you. Know that as long as you are comfortable that you are using it correctly for what you mean, you can treat them like your mother-in-lawsmile, nod your head, and keep doing it your way.