Copy Editor’s Corner | Less vs. Fewer

Copy Editor’s Corner | Less vs. Fewer

When’s the last time you read an ad that was several paragraphs or even a few sentences long? The most effective advertising — especially in magazines, websites and billboards — is short and to the point.

Ads often forego proper grammar in favor of punchy, clever copy. For example, faced with using either “More flavor, fewer calories” or “More flavor, less calories,” ad copy writers often opt for the latter, even though it’s incorrect.

The general rule is that fewer should be used to describe individual items, such as calories, which can be counted. Meanwhile, less describes stuff that’s less easily counted, such as salt. Here’s an example: “There are fewer grains of salt on this glass, so there’s less salt in the margarita.”

“More flavor, less guilt” would work where “More flavor, less calories” doesn’t. Nevertheless, many ad copy writers persist in employing bad grammar. If you want to see a copy editor shudder, just repeat the TBS slogan from a few years ago: “More movies, less commercials.” It’s the grammatical equivalent of scraping your fingernails down a chalkboard.

Alison Dotson