Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Ten items or fewer, not less

Supermarket Tesco has bowed to pressure from those lobbying for the use of good English and have altered checkout signs reading "ten items or less" in the interests of being grammatically correct.

From now on, signs in new stores are to say "up to 10 items" after a long running argument with those who have objected to the use of the word "less" in that context.

Many have argued that the signs ought to read "ten items or fewer" instead of "ten items or less". Their argument is that the word 'fewer' should be used when it refers to quantities that can be counted. 'Less', they say, should refer to quantities that cannot be counted.

The new form of words comes from a suggestion by the Plain English Campaign.

"There is a debate about whether the word should be 'less' or 'fewer'," a campaign spokesman said. "Saying 'up to ten items' is easy to understand and avoids any debate."

Guidance from Oxford University Press says: "Less means 'not as much'. Fewer means 'not as many'. This can be tricky when referring to quantities. For example, we say less than six weeks, not fewer than six weeks, because we are not referring to six individual weeks, but to a single period of time lasting six weeks."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wouldn't it have to say "Up to and including 10 items" to have the same meaning then?