Over the past few months of unemployment I have had the chance to rediscover my old mild obsession with the computer game SimCity. There is something quietly satisfying about watching thousands of tiny, virtual people working, playing, and generally living their best lives, at least until zombies devour them or giant lizards tread on them.
There is just one little thing that’s really, really, really, really annoying me about the game, though*. There is a recurring quest in the game to “have less than 5 fires in your city”, and every time this quest comes up – and I mean every time – I find myself glaring at the screen and muttering, “Fewer. It’s FEWER fires.”
So, for anyone, like the programmers, struggling with when to use less and when to use fewer:
- less is used with things that come as quantities: “less sugar, please”.
- fewer is used with things that can be counted individually: “fewer sugarcubes, please”.
As a general rule, if you find yourself using a number after less – “have less than 5 fires in your city”, to pick an example totally at random – you should probably be using fewer.
Then I’ll stop being pedantic and go back to drafting the first ever RTW Facebook ads.
Actually… just let me get fewer than five fires in my city first…