Wordwatch Towers

A plain language guide to punctuation, grammar and writing well.

More chocolate, less grammar

with 12 comments

Melanger that mixes chocolate liquor with othe...
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Green & Black’s chocolate. Yum. If you don’t want to take out a mortgage to buy some, try Asda. (An amazing £1 a bar the other day). What’s not to like? Well, I’m not liking the till signs so much. Having only bought a couple of bars, I join the ‘About 20 items or less’ queue and resist the overwhelming urge to cross out the word ‘less’ and replace it with the grammatically correct ‘fewer’.

The difference? Easy.

‘Fewer’ refers to separate items that can be counted. For example, items of shopping in a basket.

‘Less’ refers to bulk or quantity — stuff that can’t be counted.

For example:

Less shopping, fewer items

Less bread, fewer slices

Less concrete, fewer paving slabs

(P.S. M&S changed its ‘or less’ signs a few years back to be grammatically correct — take a look next time you’re in there. The chocolate’s not as good though).

Fewer or less? A user-friendly guide



Written by Wordwatch

08/11/2009 at 10:44 am

12 Responses

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  1. I say, stop resisting the urge to correct; I’m sure they’d appreciate it 🙂
    A sign I saw in the grocery store this morning: “Our feature meal of the day…” Am I wrong or should it read “featured”?

    Maggie Manning

    24/01/2010 at 9:23 pm

    • Yes — I should furnish myself with a black marker pen every time I go shopping! I did once add a possessive apostrophe to a sign in a bookshop which read ‘Childrens Reading Area’ (after looking around to make sure no one was watching me.)

      That’s an interesting question about ‘feature’/’featured’. I’m leaning towards ‘feature’ being OK. It seems to be borrowed from the more well-used phrase ‘feature film’, and would mean the main meal being served by the restaurant??
      See Oxford Dictionaries.

      Thanks, Maggie


      25/01/2010 at 8:16 am

  2. Well, don’t use Hollywood as a language guide–worst English anywhere. “Featured” sounds better to my ear–like an adjective, not a noun acting as one. Among the Brad and Angie breaking break-up news this weekend, I saw they had contacted a “high-power, Beverly Hills divorce attorney.” To me, that should be “high-powered,” for the same reason.

    Michael Farrell

    25/01/2010 at 3:46 pm

    • I agree that ‘high-powered’ would be correct. But I don’t mind going for the ‘feature meal’. And I wasn’t using Hollywood as my language guide — just my old faithful Oxford Dictionary of English.


      25/01/2010 at 3:57 pm

  3. Not the ODE! Well (tee hee), I meant that “feature film” undoubtedly was born from Hollywood-speak — as were such monstrosities as to “helm” a project or to “premiere” a movie. This is a long, off-topic subject in itself, but Hollywood is not a strong source of good English.

    Michael Farrell

    25/01/2010 at 5:24 pm

  4. Luckily or unluckily (<<– sentence adverbs, which apply to the entire sentence that follows), I had plenty of time on my commute to think about this.

    A feature film is not the same as a featured film. "Feature" can be a noun (the second feature or the main feature); I suspect that's where the term comes from. It generally means a bigger, longer, more splashy film, after some smaller, introductory films. But a featured film (adj.) is one of several shown of more or less equal importance. So you might say, "This year, the Sundance Film Festival has some 22 foreign films. The featured film is the latest from French director Atelier."

    Thus, you could say the "featured act" but probably never the "feature act."

    Michael Farrell

    25/01/2010 at 7:06 pm

    • Hi, Michael – this is a funny word, isn’t it? According to my dictionary ‘featured’ can only be used as an adjective in phrases such as ‘fine-featured woman’. Or you can say ‘feature-length’ as an adjective, or ‘featureless’ as an adjective.

      Otherwise, ‘features’ is a noun as in a ‘distinctive attribute or aspect of something’ (‘an important feature of the new building’, for example); or as in someone’s facial features; or as in a newspaper article. ‘Feature film’ is listed as a noun.

      Or – it’s a verb, as in ‘The art gallery featured many original installations’ or ‘the play featured a number of famous actors’ etc.

      Does this mean my ‘feature meal’ should really be featured? I’m not so sure…


      25/01/2010 at 8:31 pm

  5. You’re saying your so-called “dictionary” trumps my random thoughts whilst commuting? Harrump and pish-posh.

    Michael Farrell

    25/01/2010 at 9:18 pm

    • …I couldn’t possibly comment.


      25/01/2010 at 9:24 pm

  6. *home at last* Well MY dictionary — an AMERICAN dictionary, yet still published by that fusty university outside London — says that “featured” is an adj. that derives from “feature.” It gives the example you note, “in combination,” but does not limit use to the combined form.

    Here are just a few examples of use of “featured film” in the US:




    Michael Farrell

    26/01/2010 at 4:51 am

    • So my meal should be featured?? I’m not so hungry now.


      26/01/2010 at 8:03 am

  7. Try to find a well- or full-featured meal. They’re better.

    Michael Farrell

    26/01/2010 at 1:43 pm

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