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One article today said that Trump could win even if had less votes.

I search in google and I see that "less votes" is common.

Is it correct?

As vote is countable, it should be fewer votes...

Addition from the OP's comment:

I also found an article on the web that says Less Women. Should that be fewer women?

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    It should be "Trump could win even with / if he had fewer votes." This Ngram will confirms it. A link to your source would be useful. – MorganFR Nov 9 '16 at 12:09
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    Many native speakers use "less" instead of "fewer". This grammatical rule is fighting a losing battle. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Nov 9 '16 at 12:11
  • MorganFR The link is gone as it is an already old item of news. I see you can find many references in google ex. andmagazine.com/us/1331161145.html – Gyonder Nov 9 '16 at 12:15
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As I write, Donald Trump has 59,500,000 votes more or fewer. Wait...What? (Native speakers, of course, say more or less1.) What about just "less votes" or "fewer votes"? The short answer is that in formal contexts, it is advisable to use fewer votes. But that's not the whole story.

Your question is based on the assumption that fewer should be used with count nouns and less should/must be used with non-count nouns.

This is one of those prescriptivist rules that has no basis in reality, that is, in accordance with how English has been used and is now used. In fact, the Merriam-Webster's Concise Dictionary of English Usage reports that

The OED [Oxford English Dictionary] shows that less has been used of countables since the time of King Alfred the Great [ca. 888].2

See also the detailed Usage Notes at Thesaurus dot com:

Even though less has been used before plural nouns (less words; less men) since the time of King Alfred, many modern usage guides say that only fewer can be used in such contexts. Less, they say, should modify singular mass nouns (less sugar; less money) and singular abstract nouns (less honesty; less love). It should modify plural nouns only when they suggest combination into a unit, group, or aggregation: less than $50 (a sum of money); less than three miles (a unit of distance). With plural nouns specifying individuals or readily distinguishable units, the guides say that fewer is the only proper choice: fewer words; fewer men; no fewer than 31 of the 50 states.

Modern standard English practice does not reflect this distinction. When followed by than, less occurs at least as often as fewer in modifying plural nouns that are not units or groups, and the use of less in this construction is increasing in all varieties of English: less than eight million people; no less than 31 of the 50 states (emphasis mine).

About less with count nouns on their own:

When not followed by than, fewer is more frequent only in formal written English, and in this construction also the use of less is increasing: This year we have had less crimes, less accidents, and less fires than in any of the last five years.

Thus, to keep the prescriptivists happy, in an academic or formal paper, and probably in business communication, you should play it safe and go with fewer, as in fewer votes.

However, let's look at a few things. First, if Trump has "less votes" or, as some insist, "fewer votes," who has the greater number of votes? Well, Clinton does. Clinton has more votes.

You see, no on argues that more is not appropriate with a count noun. What are the candidates' totals, as of this writing? Well, right now, Trump has 59,511,455 votes. Or 59,500,000 votes more or fewer.

You see that? No native speaker would dream of saying more or fewer. Again:

Q: How many people came to the party?

A: Oh, 75, more or fewer.

This is ridiculous. It is more or less1. Why? Because that is what native speakers say. And what native speakers say is the only factor that determines what is "correct" or "standard." As Rodney Huddleston and Geoffrey Pullum say in A Student's Introduction to English Grammar

What we’re saying is that when there is a conflict between a proposed rule of grammar and the stable usage of millions of experienced speakers who say what they mean and mean what they say, it’s got to be the proposed rule that’s wrong, not the usage...

Grammar rules must ultimately be based on facts about how people speak and write. If they don’t have that basis, they have no basis at all. The rules are supposed to reflect the language the way it is, and the people who know it and use it are the final authority on that. And where the people who speak the language distinguish between formal and informal ways of saying the same thing, the rules must describe that variation too.3

Thus, yes, at this time, fewer votes, fewer people, fewer toys is seen as more formal, but less votes, less people, less toys is said by a substantial part of the native English speaking world.

Or as the Merriam-Webster's Concise Dictionary of English Usage says

Here is the rule as it is usually encountered: fewer refers to number among things that are counted, and less refers to quantity or amount among things that are measured. This rule is simple enough and easy enough to follow. It has only one fault—it is not accurate for all usage.

and so it revises the "rule" and says that

less also refers...to number among things that are counted.4

Now, for some examples over the years (from the OED):

1580 I thinke there are fewe Vniuersities that haue lesse faults then Oxford, many that haue more.

In modern spelling, the above sentence is

1580 I think there are few universities that have less faults than Oxford, many that have more.

And two more from the OED:

1862 I may see them all doing with still less comforts.

1971 The 47-page prospectus..shows that there are less restrictions..than is generally supposed.

And you've supplied a usage from today:

2016 Why less women vote, despite the growing female life-span.

Hope this is helpful!


1 More or less is, of course, an idiom. So that is why people use it; but it is used even with countable nouns ("the jar holds more or less 18 pickles"). I have used the phrase "more or fewer," which is not an idiom, to help you think about how we use language. For instance, if more and less are so closely connected as to form an idiom, is there any validity to a rule that says you can say more votes but not less votes?

2 Merriam-Webster's Concise Dictionary of English Usage (Kindle Location 24371).

3 A Student's Introduction to English Grammar (p. 5f). Cambridge University Press. Kindle Edition.

4 Merriam-Webster's Concise Dictionary of English Usage (Kindle Locations 24354-24356, 24358).


We can compare this to two other debated uses: It used to be that prescriptivists insisted that above could only be used as an adverb, as in the sentence above, but now most grammarians and style guides say that using above as an adjective is acceptable, so it's "okay" to say the above sentence. Second, the same issue with different from: it was said that this was the only proper usage, at least in American English, and that different than was flat out wrong. Well, now most style guides will admit that different than is okay, even if they still recommend different from for formal usage.

  • "More or less" is a fixed phrase, a binomial expression. If it wasn't, native speakers would also say "less or more" but English speakers don't. In Italian we say exactly the same thing: più o meno. The fact that "more or fewer" is not said is neither here or there (another binomial phrase) – Mari-Lou A Nov 9 '16 at 22:36
  • Would you say "a man of less words" or " a man of few words"? Would you say: "far and less between" or "far and few between"? – Mari-Lou A Nov 9 '16 at 22:40
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The sentence is not strictly correct but still understandable

The part that's missing and would be assumed and understood is

Trump could win even if he had less votes (than his opponent).

Trump could win even if he had fewer votes (than his opponent).

Both "less" and "fewer" would be understood to mean the same.

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    It's not correct to say less votes, even though many people make the mistake. You will be understood either way, but if you're concerned about being correct, you would say fewer votes. The related question in the sidebar has a good explanation: ell.stackexchange.com/questions/68353/… – ColleenV parted ways Nov 9 '16 at 12:14
  • @ColleenV Your statement is about as prescriptivist as it gets. – Alan Carmack Nov 9 '16 at 21:39

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