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Video transcript

hello grammarians hello Robi hi David uh so you called me into the recording booth today yes because uh you have a bone to pick with me a little bit yeah so I have always in my usage I've always drawn a distinction between less and fewer I wouldn't say I'm one of those sticklers that goes around correcting signs at the grocery store checkout you know if it says like 15 items or less I'm not going to take out like a black sharpie and say no cure but I do I do think that there is a distinction in usage between the two but you told me that there is not as much as I would like to believe look like I'm the last person that wants to needlessly subscribe to grammar superstitions right our job is to go around with our little needle of truths and problems yes that's what that's what I'm gonna try to do or I'm gonna try to argue this ok dislodge me from my part right I'm going to make a broad statement to start with and we can come dig into it but my my argument is that you can use less to mean or to refer to both countable items count nouns and to larger mass nouns but you can only use fewer to refer to count nouns like five items or fewer but you couldn't say fewer water so you are acknowledging that there is a difference oh definitely so okay so Ruby what what are count nouns and mass nouns good question so count nouns are essentially nouns that you can count individually as an individual entity so an example between these two count noun would be grains of sand okay so I can count not that I want two grains of sand individually but I guess what you're saying is I couldn't count sand sand like let's say for some reason you and I were having a sand counting contest the pet plucking individual grains of sand from the beach with tweezers putting in a bucket I could say I have fewer grains of sand than you do right but I couldn't say I have fewer sand is that what you're saying that is what I'm saying fewer just it just doesn't in standard English it just doesn't go with these mass nouns you know fewer sand fewer I'm getting fewer Sun than I used to you would say I'm getting less fun than I used to for example if you're talking about being out in the Sun sure versus hours of sun exposure right you could get fewer hours of sanics and exposure but my argument and this is where I think you and I differ is that I believe you could also say I'm getting less hours of sun exposure hmm and the reason that I feel this way okay is that this trend or this this idea that that fewer always has to go with a count noun is really just as far as I can figure just a thing that some guy named Robert Baker wrote in this book what do you mean some guy he was like somewhat of dude invented any wasn't see wasn't Sunday I guess he was he was at the time he was sort of a front-runner in terms of talking about language and he wrote this book that was called reflections on the English language in 1770 and what Robert Baker said in the book and this is I mean people have looked at this and tried to to trace the origins of this fewer less issue with count nouns and Robert Baker said this word is most commonly used in speaking of a number where I should think fewer would do better no fewer than a hundred appears to me not only more elegant than no less than 100 but strictly proper she did just kind of decide arbitration he did I mean he's really stating his opinion here he says you know appears to me not only more elegant than no less 100 but strictly proper okay so maybe this we proper is sounds sound a little intimidating but he's you staining an opinion here are you something about the word yes he's talking about the word less the word less is most commonly used in speaking the number and he just thinks that I feel like fewer would do better so he's going on this gut impulse which is for the record fine that is fine right like there's nothing would you think there's anything ungrammatical about saying there is fewer I get fewer son I guess not it it's just not the way that we speak in standard English just style and culture right that dictates the way that we feel of our words right and so I guess that's what I'm getting at is in in standard English these days we see we see less being used for both when referring to both count nouns and mass nouns and I think that's fine alright yeah I don't I don't see any problem with that especially since the only real reasoning that that anybody can find to go on is this one person's opinion from 1770 so I think we can say less to refer to countable items and lest you think that we're replacing one dude opinion from 1770 with two people's opinion from the present like I guess that's a legitimate criticism that you could make but what we're trying to say is that this reflects the way that language is commonly used and understood now right this isn't just the two of us making an arbitrary rule which by the way Rosie I'm now on your side I am I thought I buy into this you can use Lester for a town nouns and mass nouns but fewer only refer to count nouns I get that um because it actually reflects the way that these words are used in what is called the corpus of English like the body of language that bounces around every day exactly and and the one exception that I would say it comes back to this question of context and style that Dave and I have been talking about if you're writing a formal paper probably want to use fewer to refer to count nouns because in that context I mean that's still kind of what's on the books as the quote right way okay so this is the more the more formal option they're both correct but this is more formal right I would say so okay well cool Thank You Rosie oh you're welcome I feel like I learned something today thank you for for disabusing me of this of this superstition of course and thank you for Marian you can learn anything David out Rosie up