Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: less (2).

less (2). Today: “One fewer” or “one less“? If, in strict usage, “less” applies to singular nouns and “fewer” to plural nouns, the choice is clear: “one less golfer” on the course, not “one fewer golfer.” This is tricky only because “less” is being applied to a singular count noun, whereas it usually applies to a mass noun. Burt Bacharach got it right in “One Less Bell to Answer” (1970). And most contemporary writers get it right — e.g.: “Some industry observers worry about a deal that will lead to one less independent news organization.” Mark Kempner, “In a Merger, CNN, ABC May Shoot for the Stars,” Atlanta J. & Const., 3 Nov. 2002, Bus. Section, at 1. Nearly a quarter of the time, however, writers use “one fewer,” an awkward and unidiomatic phrase. One can’t help thinking that this is a kind of hypercorrection induced by underanalysis of the “less“-vs.-“fewer” question — e.g.: o “But Boras points out that Park had only one fewer [read ‘less‘] quality start than Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling of the Arizona Diamondbacks.” Jason Reid, “Silence Speaks Loudly to Park Baseball,” L.A. Times, 19 Nov. 2001, at D1. o “Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham . . . has one fewer [read ‘less‘] hat than we said the other day.” Al Kamen, “Cheney Losing His Voice,” Wash. Post, 21 Nov. 2001, at A21. Next: Two Last Things. For information about the Language-Change Index click here. Quotation of the Day: “Although a comma that is missing from a sound sentence should be put in, no putting in of commas will cure a defective sentence.” Jacques Barzun & Henry F. Graff, “Clear Sentences: Right Emphasis and Right Rhythm” (1957), in Perspectives on Style 3, 9 (Frederick Candelaria ed., 1968).
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