Less vs. Fewer

Basically, “less” works with singular nouns and “fewer” works with plural nouns. For example, you might drink less milk than your friend, but you ate fewer cookies.

image
You eat LESS salad, but FEWER vegetables.

You drink less water, but fewer glasses of water. This is because “water” is singular, whereas “glasses” is plural.

You eat less soup, but fewer bowls of soup.

You purchase less perfume, but fewer bottles of perfume.

You packed less clothing, but fewer clothes.

If you understand when to use “much” as opposed to when to use “many,” then another way to think about it is this: If you would use “many,” use “fewer.”  Think: I didn’t eat as many cookies as he did = I ate fewer cookies than he did.

If you would use “much,” use “less.” Think: I didn’t drink as much milk as he did = I drank less milk than he did.

Accept vs. Except

In the honors English class I teach right now, we are working on writing college essays in preparation for the students’ college application process next fall. As I stood at the front of the computer lab this afternoon, listening to the gentle tap of fingertips on keys, I overheard and subsequently entered into a conversation with two of my students. The first, a young man, was reading off a list of notable alumni from the college to which he plans to apply in the fall. Presuming he was thus engaged for lack of motivation to actually write his application essay, which consisted of a very broad prompt (basically: write a personal statement of 500 words), I suggested that instead of wasting precious writing time perusing a list, he should consider writing an essay about how he wanted to be added to the college’s notable alumni list–and all the things he planned to be notable for.

“So…for working at McDonald’s?” he quipped (he actually wants to be a nurse).

Matching his tone, I offered, “Well, everyone likes a burger.”

“Right,” he said. “Except me.”

At least, that’s what I heard him say. And so did his classmate beside him.

“What?!” she cried with incredulity, ripping her eyes from her computer screen. “You don’t like burgers?”

He looked at her for a moment, confused.

“Yes, I do,” he said.

“But you just said you don’t.”

“No I didn’t.”

“Yes, you did. Mrs. Creasey said everyone likes a burger and you said, ‘Except me.'”

“No! I meant accept me–like, let me come to your college,” the young man explained.

The young woman and I laughed, and she added, “See, that’s why the English language is so difficult: you have ‘accept’ and you have ‘except,’ and they sound just the same.”

And in this particular context, they both made sense–but the use of one over the other completely changed the meaning of the statement. In most cases, we can easily discern what the speaker means based on the context, but this is an example of a circumstance when that was not the case–when seeing the word spelled out would have greatly assisted in ascertaining its meaning (if, that is, you know how to spell it regarding its intended use).

When spelled as “accept,” the verb means to allow or admit in, to welcome, or to gain. When spelled as “except,” it means to exclude, bar, or leave out. A memory trick might be to remember that “accept” with an “a” is a synonym for “allow” and “admit,” which also begin with “a.” “Except” with “ex” is synonymous with “exclude,” also spelled with “ex.”

A ccept Ex cept
A dmit Ex clude

These words can, of course, also functions as nouns. To change “except” into a noun, add the ending “-ion” for “exception.” To change “accept” into a noun, add the ending “-ance” for “acceptance.” My student, then, might not be the exception to my everyone-loves-a-burger rule, but he definitely wants to gain acceptance into college.

 

 

Everyday or Every Day?

One of the most common mistakes I see in my students’ (and many other people’s) writing, is confusion as to the use of “every day” and “everyday.”

Everyday
This sign exemplifies the common (or everyday…!) confusion surrounding the use of “every day” and “everyday.” The sign is meant to express how often people should pay for parking in this particular lot. They should pay each day, not eachday. The sign would be correct if its “everyday” were changed to “every day.”

As one word, “everyday” is an adjective, as in “He was your everyday Joe, just trying to get by,” or “He drove an everyday sedan, indistinguishable from the other beige cars in the lot.” It refers to something that is commonplace, normal, usual. “Everyday” is synonymous with words like “typical” or “average.”

As two words, “every” and “day,” the word “every” functions as a modifier for the word “day.” “Every day” as two words expresses the frequency with which something occurs, as in, “I eat breakfast every day.” In this case, “every day” is synonymous with “daily” or “each day.”

An example that uses both, albeit a bit redundant, would be: “I enjoy a simple, everyday cereal–Cheerios, Raisin Bran, Corn Flakes–for breakfast every day.”

As a rule of thumb, if you could correctly use “each day” or “daily” where you are thinking of employing “every day” or “everyday,” use “every day.” If you could correctly substitute “typical” or “common” where you plan to use “every day” or “everyday,” use “everyday.”

Every Day—expresses frequency

Everyday—adjective

Daily Typical
Each day Normal
Every single day Common

 

The Importance of Proofreading

In case you’ve ever underestimated the importance of proofreading, don’t.

I recently found myself in the center seat on a full flight that couldn’t take off because of a typo.

It went something like this:

Pilot’s fuzzy voice announces over the cockpit speakers, “Ladies and gentleman, we have a full flight today. There are no empty seats, and it appears we will need to delay our takeoff just a bit because we are running over the weight limit.”

General rumble of dismayed passengers worried about missing connections (I include myself in the group of worriers) rises and falls in the cabin.

We wait.

And we wait some more.

About twenty-five minutes pass.

Pilot’s voice over the cockpit speakers crackles, “Ladies and gentleman, we are investigating what appears to be a typo. We recently got new handbooks, and we believe this latest version contains a typo. We are looking into it to make sure we are following procedure before takeoff.”

Exclamations of amusement and disbelief rise and fall in the cabin.

We wait.

And we wait some more.

Ten or fifteen minutes pass.

Pilot’s voice over the cockpit speakers relates the welcomed news, “Ladies and gentleman, it appears the issue was indeed only a typo. We will be taking off shortly. Thank you for your patience.”

Sighs of relief rise and fall in the cabin.

But I am still a little concerned.

You see, my 50-minute layover was a tight one before the typo-induced delay, and by the time the typo was identified and the confusion cleared up, our flight was taking off an hour later than scheduled.

I’ll spare you the details of the three-hour flight, which was uneventful, and skip to what was left of the layover:

FullSizeRender-4
Every day on my way to and from work, I see this sign. Today, I glanced up and noticed a glaring mistake. If you see it, comment here or find me on Instagram to prove your proofreading prowess!

We are running through the airport with carry-ons clunking against our thighs and backs. We are panting on the tram. We are racing up to our gate as the woman manning it says, “You’re lucky you got here. They’re closing the door now,” and picks up a phone to tell the operator on the other end of the bridge that we are here and not to close the door yet. We are jostling our way down the aisle of already-settled passengers, eyeballing us as if we are the reason they have not yet taken flight.

We make our flight, but our checked bags aren’t as fortunate.

And our car keys are tucked safely away in them.

We land in Richmond, where the car we cannot unlock, let alone start and drive home, is waiting in the south parking garage. We call my mother-in-law to make the 25-minute drive from our home, where she has been taking care of our dogs, to the airport–with our extra set of car keys in her purse. We drive two separate cars home, and have an excellent excuse to relax for the evening: We cannot unpack luggage that did not arrive, nor can we begin to wash and dry and fold the clothes packed in said luggage.

We wake up the next morning to find our bags kindly delivered, waiting in the shade on our back deck–and the typo-induced ordeal has finally come to close. At least for us. I don’t know what became of the passengers whose connecting flights had already taken off when we finally landed at our connecting airport.

The moral of the story? The next time you consider sending an e-mail, publishing a blog post (goodness help my hypocritical soul if you’ve found a typo in this one!), or turning in a paper before you’ve proofread it (multiple times), consider the chaos one little mistake could cause on the other end (not to mention your own, personal humiliation).

 

 

 

Could Care Less vs. Couldn’t Care Less

I don’t consider myself a particularly irritable person, but I do have a few pet peeves. I can’t stand when the covers on my bed get rumpled and disheveled, rendering me tangled and immobilized. It drives me bonkers when those high-tech toilets with the automatic-flush feature flush at the most inconvenient and inappropriate times (which they always do). And I find it extremely inconsiderate when the driver in front of me slows down and turns without ever having used his blinker. But perhaps one of my greatest pet peeves is the widespread mispronunciation of the phrase “couldn’t care less.”

The phrase is meant to express an utter indifference.

“I hate to disappoint, but I am not going to make it to dinner tonight, my dear,” he said apologetically.

“Quite frankly, Daniel, I couldn’t care less,” she sniffed.

Providing the “she” in this example really does not at all care whether or not she sees Daniel at dinner tonight, this is the proper use of “couldn’t care less.” She cares so incredibly little about his attendance to the meal, that she actually could not care any less.

The common mistake people often make is to proclaim they “could care less,” when really, what they mean to express is that they don’t care at all.

“I hate to disappoint, but I am not going to make it to dinner tonight, my dear,” he said apologetically.

“Quite frankly, Daniel, I could care less,” she sniffed.

She could care less? She could? Quite literally then, she does care–at least a little–because she could care at least a little bit less.

Regarding some of my own pet peeves, then:

The blankets on the bed are in a disarray–twisted and tangled and balled up.

Oh, I could care less. I could care a lot less. In fact, we are going to have to fix that before we can go to sleep.

I walk into the bathroom stall and am greeted by the whooshing and whirring of a flushing toilet. I haven’t even locked the door yet, for crying out loud.

Again, I could care less. A lot less. How many gallons of water did we just waste? And how many more times is that thing going to flush before I’m through?

There are many things, though, that I really couldn’t care less about. What’s for dinner tonight? I couldn’t care less, just so long as I get to eat dinner. Should we make a reservation for 6:15 or 6:30? Couldn’t care less. What’s fifteen minutes? You get the idea.

The next time someone tells you she could care less about something, the proper response might be, “Really? How much less?”