Do Grammar Differently: Fewer Errors, not Less
You'll notice what I didn't title this post, which is, “We Do Grammar Different” (we'll get back to the subtitle in a minute). Many individuals and even corporations would go ahead and chop off what they think is an unnecessary extra syllable at the end, based on the idea that it sounds better - more casual, more conversational, more like “how the kids are saying it these days.”
Well, I don't. I keep the -ly suffix because when I was in school, I learned about a little feature of the English language called “parts of speech” (if you're older than 25, you may've heard of this), the gist of which is that words are classified into specific types and each type has its own function. Here are two examples:
DIFFERENT is an adjective. Adjectives modify nouns, as in, “Oh hi, Kelly, your hair looks different today,” or, “Gosh, the tone of this post isn't much different from the last one – sarcastic, yet accurate.” Adjectives describe things. With me so far?
DIFFERENTLY is an adverb. Adverbs modify (drum roll, please) verbs – in other words, they describe actions. Let's switch up the last two examples a bit, thus: “Wow, Kelly, you cut your hair differently this time,” or, “Man, I wish they had written this example a little bit differently, but I still can't stop reading!”
To sum up: you do not do things different. That's like saying you do things red, or tall, or bankrupt, none of which would make sense. You do things differently – or at least you will, if you want to make fewer grammatical errors in your speech and writing.
This, of course, segues nice...ly to our next common error, confusing “less” with “fewer” and vice versa. Less refers to a smaller amount or smaller degree of something, fewer refers to a smaller number or quantity of something. This is simple to remember and thus easy to fix if you keep in mind that some things can be quantified (i.e. counted) and some cannot.
For example, water. Can you count water?
The answer is no – at least until you divide water up into units of measure, such as liters, gallons, or bottles or sips.
Thus, when you drink two bottles of water one day and only one bottle the next, you would say either you drank fewer bottles of water or less water, because both are correct. What you would not want to say in this case – unless being incorrect is just your style – is less bottles.
Or say, you are counting your money. If you have fewer coins, you have less money; not if you have less coins, you have fewer money. Get it?
So here's the rule:
If you can count it, speak in terms of how many and use “fewer”
If you can't count it, speak in terms of how much and use “less”
I hear “less” and “fewer” confused all the time, even on NPR! So, if you would prefer to sound educated, then you might want to say things a little bit differently.