Word Wednesday: Less vs. Fewer

Learning new words and being able to find the word that means exactly what the story needs can mean the difference between a mediocre story and a brilliant one.

We recently started a new series within Word Wednesday of commonly confused words.

A reader reached out to me: “Could you do ‘less vs. fewer?’  I was quite pleased to see that Trop50 finally re-shot their commercial to have Jane Krakowski say, ‘50% fewer calories,’ instead of ‘50% less calories.’  But of course, now I have heard a new radio commercial from someone else using it incorrectly yet again.”

“Less” and “fewer” is an error bugs me, but I notice myself getting them mixed up in speaking though I know to catch it in writing.

So what’s the rule?

Simply put, it’s quality versus quantity.

“Less” is used in a general qualitative sense, but if you can count the items, you must use “fewer.”

Capitalizing on the Trop50 example, we’re going to stick with calories.

So I want to lose weight, which means—should I succeed—that I will weigh fewer pounds that I did before. I can count the pounds (all of them, unfortunately), therefore I must use “fewer.”

Similarly, if I want to eat less food, it is likely that I will ingest fewer calories. I can count the calories, but not the food.

Let’s take another example, that of a bank account. I might make a withdrawal to pay a bill. It is equally correct to state that I have less money in the bank than I did before, and that I have fewer dollars in the bank than before. In this case, money is a general term but the dollars can be counted.

Now, as with almost everything else in the English language, there are a few exceptions to this rule. But since she does it so well, I’ll send you over to read Grammar Girl.

 

A or E: Affect vs. Effect Part 2

Learning new words and being able to find the word that means exactly what the story needs can mean the difference between a mediocre story and a brilliant one.

Last week we started of a new series within Word Wednesday of commonly confused words. First up, “A” or “E”: Affect vs. Effect.

Usually, affect is a verb and effect is a noun. But effect is often used as a verb and affect is occasionally used as a noun. And if that’s not confusing enough, if you affect something, your action produces an effect.

In case you missed it, check out Part 1, where we discussed affect.

Affect vs. EffectAnd now for effect, without further ado.

Effect:

Noun

1)      The result or consequence of an action or other cause

The tea had a calming effect on her.

Here it may help to think of cause and effect. “Cause” ends with an “E,” which is the first letter in the next word, “effect.” Also, if you can think of the synonyms “result” and “consequence,” neither of these words has an “A,” so neither does the right word, “effect.”

2)      The lights/sounds/scenery of a live or recorded production or broadcast (“special effects”)

Lights! Camera! Action! The movie’s special effects made me think I was really in outer space.

OK, so that has NEVER happened. For some reason every space movie manages to have unexplained gravity working perfectly on their spacecraft. But I digress. Special effects are intended to trick the EyEs and Ears, both of which have E’s and E sounds.

3)      Personal belongings

She collected his effects in a box so her ex could pick them up when she wasn’t home.

And a personal example: I had to list my effects at the hospital when I took off my earrings and such and put them in a plastic bag for storage.

If you can replace effect with “belonging” or “possession” you’ll remember the letter “E.”

Verb

Cause to happen

She cast all the photos of her with her ex into the fire to effect their complete destruction.*

Often used in the phrase “effects change,” you should note that where affect refers to influence, effect drives all the way to the rEsult or to the End.

Well, there you have it, the difference between Affect and Effect.

*My Muse initially suggested that we leave his effects out in a thunderstorm to effect their destruction, but we took the higher path and offered the heroine some closure instead.