Tell me please which sentence is correct.

I want you to articulate your ideas in 60 seconds or less.

I want you to articulate your ideas in 60 seconds or fewer.

The word second is a countable noun, so theoretically it should be 60 second or fewer, but what I heard English native speakers say is 60 seconds or less.


"60 seconds" is the amount of time, so by saying "60 seconds or less" you basically say "in less amount of time than 60 seconds."

According to Lexico, less is also used with numbers when they are on their own and with expressions of measurement or time, e.g.:

  • His weight fell from 18 stone to less than 12.
  • Their marriage lasted less than two years.
  • Heath Square is less than four miles away from Dublin city centre.

From an answer on English Language and Usage SE:

The general principle here is that less should be used when describing a continuous quantity and fewer should be used for a discrete quantity. This is not the same as countable v non-countable.

Time is a continuous quantity, so "5 minutes or less" is correct.

A purchase is a discrete quantity, so "10 items or fewer" is correct.

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    Note that you can make time a discrete quantity. Do you need as many as 60 seconds to articulate your ideas, or can you do so with fewer? It comes down to our interpretation. Here, as many as and with imply a discrete count of individual units, making fewer appropriate.) – Jason Bassford Jun 29 '19 at 17:29
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    @JasonBassford I would disagree with that example. IMO it should be "Do you need as long as 60 seconds to articulate your ideas, or can you do so in less [time]?" or "... in a shorter time". – alephzero Jun 29 '19 at 17:44
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    I think this answer makes sense as an explanation of proper grammar. However, you should also be aware that, in modern colloquial usage, more and more people tend to use "less" exclusively. In many cases, "fewer" will sound formal or stilted to many people, even when technically correct. See for example: npr.org/2014/12/06/368712564/… – Glenn Willen Jun 29 '19 at 19:47
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    @alephzero You're missing my point. You're choosing to make it an uncountable amount; I'm deliberately choosing to make it countable. Your personal opinion may be that one sounds better; but, in terms of syntax, it can certainly be made countable, so long as the right phrasing and wording is used. – Jason Bassford Jun 29 '19 at 19:58
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    @Joshua The answer would only change if you’re using Planck units rather than seconds to measure the time. Something whose parts are small enough that it’s effectively continuous is continuous. You have less flour not fewer flour, even though flour is technically composed of discrete units that could in principle be counted. – Mike Scott Jun 30 '19 at 5:07

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