# Talk

## Fewer / less

(9 Posts)
FamiliesShareGerms Sun 18-Nov-12 11:40:17

DS's homework this week involved subtraction, with a series of sentences such as "Abdul had 24 biscuits, Ben had 4 less. How many biscuits did Ben have?"

I thought this should have been "Ben had 4 fewer", and scribbled on the homework sheet to that effect.

Teacher has come back to say "this is the mathematical language we are using at the moment, though it is good to learn alternatives for the same concept".

Leaving aside my red pen tendencies with DS's homework, is DS's teacher correct that it can be acceptable to talk about "less" when using "mathematical language"?

candyflossisevil Sun 18-Nov-12 11:54:40

Your right it's fewer! I don't see why you would change the grammar just because it's its a maths assignment!
Having said this I'm sure someone will come along now and explain that the teacher was actually right!

OwedToAutumn Sun 18-Nov-12 12:01:19

I would've thought the idea of having a problem written down in words would be to work out the mathematical process needed to solve the problem.

The correct mathematical term she is looking for is "subtract", not "less". Ie 24 subtract 4 equals 20. or "difference" as in the difference between 24 and 4 is 20.

24 less 4 is not correct in mathematical terms, even if it is commonly used.

FamiliesShareGerms Sun 18-Nov-12 12:12:15

Thanks, both. This isn't the only grammatical error that the teacher has made in homework, but I try to refrain too much from pointing this out as I really don't want to undermine her. But it's bloody annoying when DS insists that the teacher is right and I'm wrong when it's the other way round!

WMittens Sun 18-Nov-12 14:04:08

Should you be in Pedants' corner?

I'm torn: my English language side says, "it should have been fewer;" my mathematical side says, "it's a perfectly acceptable use of the concept." Pure maths is about numbers, not what they might represent in the physical world.

24 less 4 is not correct in mathematical terms, even if it is commonly used.

I cannot find anything to say it is not a correct mathematical term; do you have a source? I would argue if it's used commonly by the mathematical community, it is correct; many academic, professional or industrial fields use terms (jargon) that mean different things in common language usage.

cumfy Thu 20-Dec-12 19:38:04

I agree with the teacher.

12-13 would be my cut-off age for bothering about fewer/less.

And clearly we're talking sig younger than that.

GrimmaTheNome Thu 20-Dec-12 19:46:22

If you're using inequality operators its > 'more' and <l ess or <= 'less than or equal to'. The operator can apply to any real number, not just integers - would 'fewer than 2.4' be grammatically correct?

I think the teacher is correct, in maths use 'less' not 'fewer'.

LRDtheFeministDude Fri 21-Dec-12 17:14:44

She's not correct. She might be using it for a reason, such as because it forms a neat pair as part of 'more' and 'less', that that doesn't make it grammatically correct. It's surely pretty confusing for the teacher to be teaching something that is wrong?

TBH I reckon she only replied with that to cover her arse because she didn't like being corrected.

prism Sat 22-Dec-12 16:00:40

I don't see why getting this wrong and saying "less" would help the pupils at all. In fact might well undermine their mathematical understanding, as they will go on to do maths questions about things you measure, and don't count, like water in a tank, when "less" is correct. Understating that counting goes with "fewer", and sticking to that from the start, can only help them.

IMHO.

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