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Less or fewer? More than or over?

Let’s start with fewer or less. Fewer should be used with count nouns, which are nouns that can be individually counted: cars, trees, shoes, and so forth. For example, in the express grocery checkout aisle, the sign should read “10 items or fewer”, because  an item is a count noun. Use less when you’re referring to mass nouns, which are nouns that you can’t count or pluralize. For example, “after cleaning my office, I have less mess on my desk”. Therefore, as a rule of thumb (which is a count noun, incidentally), if you can individually count the noun, use fewer; if not, use less.

Now to a much more debated question: when should more than be used instead of over? “Over 30 million hamburgers sold” makes me grind my teeth because my understanding of over is that it’s a preposition that indicates “above or higher than something else, sometimes so that one thing covers the other; above” (Over, n.d., para. 1). However, having conducted some research on the subject, I discovered that a) I'm not the only one considering the use of over versus more than (Freeman, 2014; Gaertner-Johnson, 2008), and b) my objections are antiquated. It seems that British writers have used more than and over interchangeably, whereas American writers have historically distinguished between them (Freeman, 2010, para. 5).The voices claiming for more than to be used in formal writing with regard to quantifiable amounts are as numerous and loud as those who think that “the charge that over is inferior to more than is a baseless crochet” (Bryan, 2009, as cited in Freeman, 2014, para. 20). The official notice of equality between the terms seems to have come from the editors at the Associated Press Stylebook when they announced that "over, as well as more than, is acceptable to indicate greater numerical value" (Associated Press, 2014). My conclusion, therefore, is that either usage is acceptable, but if you use more than, please ensure you spell it than, not then.

Questions? Please contact the Writing Centre.

Theresa Bell
Writing centre coordinator

References

Associated Press [APStylebook]. (2014, March 20). AP Style tip: New to the Stylebook: over, as well as more than, is acceptable to indicate greater numerical value. #ACES2014 [Tweet]. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/APStylebook/status/446731452437512192

Freeman, J. (2010, April 2). Correct usage for over 1,000 years ... [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://throwgrammarfromthetrain.blogspot.ca/2010/04/correct-usage-for-over-1000-years.html

Gaertner-Johnson, L. (2008, September 5). Over vs. more than [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://www.businesswritingblog.com/business_writing/2008/09/over-50-or-more.html

Over. (n.d.). In Cambridge advanced learner's dictionary. Retrieved from http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/british/over_1

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