Less or Fewer? A Baker’s Experiment in Grammar

Sep 09, 2020 | Posted by Jennifer


These days, it seems that I am perpetually in my home. I suspect many of us are. Being in my home more, I find I am eating more meals in my home as well. And along with eating meals, I am consuming more snacks, mostly in the form of home-baked goods. Hey, with all of the extra time spent in my home, I’ve got to do something, right?

I was baking cookies not too long ago. They were some of my favorites: chocolate chip cookies. All of that baking got me thinking about grammar. Isn’t that the way of things? One starts thinking in one direction, perhaps about dandelions, and before you know it, she’s checking out bougie salad recipes on Pinterest and then looking up the nutritional content of catnip tea. Segues happen.

So anyway, I was thinking about grammar, specifically about some commonly confused words: less and fewer. Both of these words have related meanings, but they aren’t interchangeable. So how does one know which is the correct word to select? It all comes down to this: Is the item that is diminishing countable?

Let me illustrate using my yummy cookies as an object lesson. As I was assembling the ingredients, I had measured and poured out the chocolate chips into a bowl. I always know to pour a smidge more than I need because of shrinkage. In this case, because I can no longer blame the shrinkage on my kids, given that they are no longer in the house, the shrinkage was coming from me. Every so often, I would pop a few chocolate chips into my mouth. From when I first poured the chips into the bowl to when I poured them into the mixture, I had fewer chocolate chips in the bowl. If I wanted, I could have counted how many chips I had to start out with and then compared them to the amount of chips I tossed into the batter, and the number would most definitely have been fewer. Because the number of chips is countable, the correct word to use in this case is fewer.

Now let’s imagine that for the most part the bulk of the chocolate chips made it into the recipe. The mixer did its job, and soon I had a respectable amount of dough. Did I immediately turn all of that dough into cookies? No way! I ate some of it. I’m afraid to say that I have a tendency to eat a fair amount of dough, truth be told, so that by the time I was ready to form the cookies, I had less dough with which to make them. Why did I use the term less versus fewer? It’s because I could not count the dough as I had the chips. When the number is uncountable, less is the word to reach for.

I only wish I could say the experience left me with less weight on my hips, but with the consumption of more calories, I’m afraid I suffered the consequences of more weight as well. Nevertheless I’m able to reflect back on that incident philosophically now, choosing to believe that my experience served to perhaps enhance others’ understanding of the difference between the words fewer and less. Now if only I would bake cookies less often, I’d have fewer moments of regret over upending my diet.


Jennifer’s Favorite Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe

¾ c. butter flavored shortening
1 ¼ c. firmly packed dark brown sugar
2 T. milk
1 T. vanilla
1 egg

1 ¾ c. all-purpose flour
1 t. salt
¾ t. baking soda

1 ½ c. semi-sweet chocolate chips OR
¾ c. semi-sweet chocolate chips AND ¾ c. butterscotch chips

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Combine the wet ingredients of shortening, dark brown sugar, milk, and vanilla in a large bowl. Beat at medium speed until well blended. Next, beat the egg into the creamed mixture.

Sift the flour, salt, and baking soda together. Add the sifted mixture into the creamed mixture only until blended. Don’t overmix. Stir in the chips.

Drop rounded tablespoonfuls of dough onto parchment paper laid atop an ungreased baking sheet, allowing room for the cookies to expand. Bake one sheet at a time for 8‒10 minutes for chewy cookies (my favorite) or 11‒13 minutes for crispy cookies. Cool the cookies for about two minutes before removing them from the baking sheet.

Enjoy with a nice cup of milk!

Jennifer Mauser has always loved reading and writing and received a B.A. in English from the University of Kansas in 1991. Once she and her husband had children, they decided to homeschool, and she put all her training to use in the home. In addition to homeschooling her children, Jennifer teaches IEW classes out of her home, coaches budding writers via email, and tutors students who struggle with dyslexia.

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