This attitude will help ensure your students have less problems online.

The sentence above is taken from an online test provided by the University of New South Wales.

I am sure that less is not the comparative degree of little meaning minor here. So less must be a determiner here.

In my opinion, fewer problems is correct and less problems is not because less is used with uncountable nouns. I know that in everyday speech less problems can possibly be. But how appropriate is this casualism (if I can put it like this) in a test?

  • You are correct. The online test is ungrammatical. Less is use for uncountable nouns and fewer is used for countable nouns. If you can count the number of problems (as you can) then fewer should be used. – Jason Bassford May 10 '18 at 22:33
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    @user3169 Even with the interpretation of "severe," the sentence itself would still be ungrammatical. Not because of the use of less but because of the plural problems. If talking about severity, a correct sentence would be: This attitude will help insure your students have less of a problem online. (If the sentence actually included the word "severe," which it doesn't, then you're right. If we knew it wasn't a mistake, it would be interpreted, or parsed, as less severe problems.) – Jason Bassford May 10 '18 at 22:52

Well, in short, I absolutely agree with you. I try not to be prescriptive. Really, I do. But if I read this on a professional website, and most especially on the website for a university, my opinion would be tarnished.

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