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Fewer, Not Less!

1 July, 2010

The Author’s heart aches at the sight of such Grammatical errors.  The Environmental conscience of this new product is admirable, but Stella Artois shouldn’t be allowed to pervert the Rules of Grammar just to suit their Advertising Copy.  Certainly, ‘Less Glass. Fewer CO2 Emissions’ may  fall awkwardly on most ears, but ‘Less Emissions’ rankles the Grammatically sensitive few.

Less glass

Hammersmith Tube Station

I must admit that I have fouled up ‘less’ and ‘fewer’ once or twice in my day.  The most shameful instance was when speaking with my Dissertation Supervisor.  After gently correcting my mistake,  she taught me this handy phrase: ‘less cheese, fewer crackers’.  Now, I can repeat that phrase and always remember that mass nouns are ‘less’, and multiple nouns are ‘fewer’.  Multimodis Sapis, Dr. Murray.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Neal permalink
    1 July, 2010 12:12 pm

    I am no authority, but would emissions in this case not be an uncountable/mass noun?
    When someone talks about their emissions, they are using it as an uncountable noun, you are not talking about one emission, two emissions, etc but emissions itself is the noun , it is not acting as a plural of emission.

    How much emissions/How many emissions, neither really sounds right in this context to me. Many sounds right if you are using it as a countable noun but I don’t think you are in this case, but then much just sounds awkward.

    Another tactic to figure it out is to try and add the nouns together and emissions plus emissions is still emissions, not two emissions, I’d say, so it would be a mass noun.

    A strange one indeed, the more you think about it the less clear the answer becomes.

    There is an interesting wikipedia page on the subject.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mass_noun

    And a discussion of the very same topic (albeit a different advert) on this blog, where the comments end up getting rather spicy!

    http://engineroomblog.blogspot.com/2008/07/less-emissions-more-driving-pleasure.html

    This really piqued my interest, as I am working through the grammar section of my TEFL at the moment, thanks for posting it!

    Neal

  2. 2 July, 2010 3:49 pm

    YES! I am one of those grammar nerds who shouts at newsreaders on the telly about less/fewer. I’m intrigued, though, by Neal’s comment above. Clearly I need to consider this further…

  3. 2 July, 2010 11:03 pm

    After doing an internet search, it seems there are a number of self-proclaimed Grammar enthusiasts, such as I, who have stepped into this Emissions mess. A bevy of companies have jumped on the Environmental bandwagon, pledging ‘less emissions’—Stella Artois, BMW, Starbucks, ASDA—and their Grammar has been both vigorously attacked and defended. The Rule Book may very well be on the Advertising Copy Editor’s side this time! It seems One must be more careful with One’s grammatical assertions: it is not always quite so simple.

    Neal, thanks for sending the link to those comments. I love seeing people get worked up over Grammar (I’m glad you’re with us Kate!) It gives me hope that the entire English speaking world will not descend into the total misuse of ‘hopefully’ and who/whom (two particular pet peeves). Whoever says Grammar is dull and irrelevant hasn’t encountered these strong willed and passionate folk. What worries me about the comments on ‘The Engine Room’ is that some people were advocating the rejection of the less/fewer distinction, with one person even going so far as to dismiss ‘fewer’ as irrelevant. I shudder to think.

    You’re right that the more you think about it, the less clear it becomes! I’ve posed this conundrum to other Grammatically inclined individuals. We’ve been mulling over it, but we’ve all but come to the conclusion that Neal is right (oh, it pains me to admit an error!). I’ll still endeavour to find some evidence in my favour, just to save face. Many thanks to Neal, a most Diligent reader!

  4. Neal permalink
    5 July, 2010 9:33 am

    Clarissa,

    You’re most welcome, I found it very interesting to ponder and investigate this myself, so no thanks are necessary. Furthermore, I think I have been one of the misguided souls misusing “hopefully” which your comment prompted me to read in to, so you have no more need to save face than I.

    An excellent read for a grammar or language enthusiast is The Language Instinct by Steven Pinker, it is one of the best books I read last year, I get the feeling you would enjoy it too.

    Many thanks as always for your observations,

    Neal

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