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Please do NOT rephrase or rewrite the troubling sentences below.

✘ 1. Why is it wrong to write: too fewer than everyone ?
✓ 2. But it's right to write: excessively fewer than everyone.

✘ 3. Why is it wrong to write: too less than everything ?
✓ 4. But it's right to write: excessively less than everything.

5. Why are 1 and 3 wrong, but 2 and 4 are right?

6. By replacing ONLY the bolded, without rewriting anything else,
how can 1 and 3 be corrected? In other words, what can replace too?

Footnote: My thought of writing 'too fewer than 'everyone' here, motivated the above.

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    What in the world is "Albusy"?? (I know there's a link there, but you should explain it in your question)
    – J.R.
    Commented Apr 18, 2015 at 19:24
  • @J.R. I apologise for the confusion. Better now?
    – user8712
    Commented Apr 18, 2015 at 23:52
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    Excessively fewer sounds rather unusual, too.
    – user230
    Commented Apr 19, 2015 at 0:10
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    I might be wrong (I haven't checked), but I think the OP might be thinking of "far fewer", "too few (to consider, for example)", which I think are possible, and mixed them somehow. By the same token, I also believe that "too less (to consider, etc.)" should also be possible, but perhaps it's been taken over by other simpler phrases such as "not enough to". Commented Apr 19, 2015 at 12:29
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    Well, first of all... They're all wrong. So it might be a good idea to ask only why the ones you are interested in (1 and 3) are wrong, without asking us to justify the others (2 and 4) which are also wrong. Commented Apr 20, 2015 at 8:05

2 Answers 2

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Less and more are absolutes.

Four is less than five.
I'd like less guff out of you, understand? Go to your room and stay there.
More gruel, Sir!

The bare absolute admits no degree. Hence, *too less, *too more.

Fewer is an absolute as well. (Cardinality: the count is less).

There were fewer thanes in the hall after Grendel's visit.

There are fewer, or there are more, or the count is equal.

Again, the bare absolute admits no degree. Hence, *too fewer.

P.S. Other absolutes: below, above, after, before, during.

P.P.S. too much less, too much more are a different kettle of fish. There too modifies 'much' not 'less|more'.

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The degree adverbs too and very are very restricted in what they can modify. They can modify basic adjectives (too big, very strong) and adverbs (too slowly, very loudly), and they can modify a few determiners that are particularly gradable (too many answers, very much confusion); but they can't modify verbs (*too yelling, *very running) or prepositional phrases (*too outside, *very up), even though many other adverbs can (angrily yelling, almost outside).

As you've noticed, too can't modify fewer and less. Similarly, it can't modify more, nor comparative adjectives and adverbs like bigger or faster. (Very can't modify any of these, either.)

So instead, we have to say things like too many fewer (meaning "fewer by too many") and too much less (meaning "less by too much"). Likewise with verbs (too much yelling, very much running). And with prepositions, we use far for the same purpose (too far outside, very far up).

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  • This is the interesting sort of thing that I, as a native speaker, have never really thought about and would never know how to explain.
    – Catija
    Commented Apr 18, 2015 at 21:27
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    This is an excellent answer but I disagree about "too many fewer". As a native speaker, I've never seen or heard that construct. Rather than saying, e.g., "Women have too many fewer opportunities than men", you'd say something like "Women have too few opportunities compared to men" or "Women have fewer opportunities than men, to an unacceptable degree." ("Too many fewer" sounds contradictory, too: it seems to raise the question, "How can it be fewer if it's too many?") Commented Apr 19, 2015 at 0:41
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    @DavidRicherby: I agree that "too many fewer" is very rare, but I think that that's mostly because what it means is something that we very rarely need to say. (Take your example, "Women have too many fewer opportunities than men". This presupposes that women should have somewhat fewer opportunities than men, and is merely objecting to the size of the disparity. Who would ever want to say that? It's not just sexist, it's complicated.) This is compounded with the fact that "fewer" is less common than "less", and the end result is that "too many fewer" is very rare.
    – ruakh
    Commented Apr 19, 2015 at 1:09
  • @DavidRicherby: Regarding your parenthetical note -- I don't think so. After all, you could raise the same spurious objection to "I make much less than she does" ("How can it be less if it's much?").
    – ruakh
    Commented Apr 19, 2015 at 1:11
  • @ruakh It doesn't suppose that women should have fewer opportunities; just that it might be acceptable for them to have very slightly fewer opportunities. It would hardly be a problem if women had a trillion opportunities and men had a trillion and one, for example. Anyway, it was just an example, not a statement of belief. Commented Apr 19, 2015 at 8:32

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