The Washington Post

More on ‘fewer’


I disagree with Anne Curzan, who wrote in her Jan. 3 op-ed, “Words in English don’t last forever. And that’s okay.,” that the difference in usage between “less” and “fewer” depends on whether something can be counted. It depends on whether one can have a fraction of it. Curzan quoted disapprovi­ngly “less than two weeks.” But there can be less than two weeks: Twelve days is less than two weeks; 1.5 weeks is less than two weeks. “Fewer than two weeks” is one week.

By contrast, one should always say “fewer people” because (except to statistici­ans) there’s no such thing as half a person.

Kevin W. Parker, Greenbelt

Anne Curzan’s op-ed resurrecte­d a 40-year-old memory. I received A’s in high school English and in freshman college English, but I was never taught the usage difference between “less” and “fewer.” That was abruptly brought to my attention when I was working on my master’s thesis in a health-care topic. Because of the nature of the research, I used “less” many times. And a member of my committee circled the word in bright red every time I should have used “fewer.” This was in manual-typewriter days, and I had to change every single error.

I hope “fewer” never goes away.

Sue Borsuk, Glen Burnie

Anne Curzan’s point that the English language is forever evolving was well taken — after all, the language has adapted well throughout both history and geography.

However, evolution of a language is not the same as its slow poisoning, which is not okay. I refer to the ghastly misuse and overuse of the word “like.” Properly used, it is a verb (“I like tea”) or it is followed by a noun (“She quivered like an aspen”). Regrettabl­y, though, it has become a substitute for “as if/as though” (“We felt as though we had been ignored”) or “that” (“It seemed that the movie would never end”).

Further, it has been seen as an inane response to a surprising situation: “I was, like, wow!” And it has become a tiresome sentence interrupte­r: “I think, like, I might have to, like, leave early.”

All this “like” cannot mean the English language is unfolding in a good way; rather, it demonstrat­es its invidious underminin­g, and, therefore, serves as an excellent reason to swipe left on a dating site or frown dismissive­ly in other situations.

Catherine Hall, Rockville

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