If you think LESS and FEWER mean the same thing, you're more or LESS correct. But they aren't inter-changeable! Why? I'll tell you as simply and sweetly as possible. It's a question of COUNTABILITY!
1) Use FEWER when you CAN count the nouns in question:
goats, dogs, balls, chairs, boxes, teachers, lamps, calories, spoons
2) Use LESS when you CAN'T count the nouns in question:
sand, milk, rice, gas, oatmeal, sugar, water, love, honesty
Do you notice another difference between the two lists? Noodle that question before you look at my answer!
My answer: the nouns in the FEWER list are all plural. The nouns in the LESS list are considered singular and never change form.
So candy uses LESS and Hershey Kisses use FEWER, though you'll never catch me saying, "Please, give me FEWER Kisses!" However, it would be accurate for me to say, "I eat LESS candy now than I did in my youth."
What about "10 items or LESS?" I'm sure you've all seen a sign like that, as they appear in most grocery stores. 10 items are definitely countable, and the word "items" is plural as well. It seems pretty clear that "10 items or FEWER" would be more accurate. I concede, however, that "10 items or LESS" sounds better. You be the judge!
Thank you for reading and sharing "A Spoonful of Grammar." Tune in next Sunday for another tricky word pair. Or sign up to receive my posts directly in your inbox.
Laura Fineberg Cooper