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How do I say this correctly? I can't figure it out. Do I have it correct already? I am trying to say that there are a lot less people. The opposite would be "so many more people".

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What's wrong with a lot less people? –  Squazic Feb 1 '13 at 19:34
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Doesn't it have to be fewer (as opposed to less) since you have a finite number of people? –  Josh Sherick Feb 1 '13 at 19:36
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There's nothing wrong with many fewer people, but "so many fewer people" is unusual. One would normally omit "people", I think, or "so", depending on context. –  Andrew Leach Feb 1 '13 at 19:38
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Less vs. fewer has been covered elsewhere. So that part of the question is a duplicate. As to the rest, trying to find a parallel construction to "so many more" is an interesting theoretical excercise, but in practical terms, as has been pointed out above, when you are "trying to say that there are a lot less people", then you should go ahead and say just that. You just did! –  RegDwigнt Feb 1 '13 at 19:42
    
You can say either in informal writing & in speech, but on a standardized English test (TOEFL, TOEIC, IELTS, SAT, GRE) you will be marked wrong because the powers that be still think that "less" is for mass non-count nouns like water, food, furniture, air (nouns that don't usually take a plural ending to indicate abundance) & "fewer" is for count nouns like people, cars, jackasses, vampires (nouns that do take a plural ending to indicate abundance). Not all languages make this distinction. English does, but English speakers don't like it: too difficult to understand & remember. –  user21497 Feb 1 '13 at 22:45

3 Answers 3

The correct way to say this is far fewer people.

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I think that a sentence like "There are so many fewer people here than usual" is acceptable, conditionally.

The word so is emphatic. Therefore so much less or so many fewer should be avoided when the usual quantity is not great or numerous to begin with.

For instance "The paper cut in my pinky hurts so much less today" basically states that it doesn't hurt any more, but in a melodramatic way.

If there are only eight people here usually, then the emphasis in "so many fewer" is inappropriate because there can be at most eight fewer, and eight is hardly "so many".

A good rule of thumb may be: if the larger of the two quantities being compared cannot be emphatically described as so much or so many, then the smaller quantity cannot be so much less or so many fewer.

There were so many people here yesterday, and today there are so many fewer, in comparison.

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I have to admit that when I saw the title of this question, I thought "I don't like that phrasing". And although I don't particularly like so many less people either, I thought it wasn't quite so odd.

I duly turned to Google Books, where I was quite surprised to find 800 instances of OP's version, but only 144 instances of my "best of a bad bunch" preference.

But they're both relatively low occurence counts for what one might expect to be a concept that would often need to be put into words. After all, so many more people gets over 40,000 hits. I think the reason people tend to avoid these forms is simply because we don't like the "disjunct" created by placing many and either fewer or less next to each other. Graphically speaking...

enter image description here

...which simply backs up comments suggesting OP should stick to the alternative he came up with quite naturally in the question text - there are a lot less people.


Note that this aversion to many less/fewer is far less marked with much more/less - and in fact, much smaller is much more common than much bigger.

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I’m about twice as unlikely to like these sorts of things as the next guy, but this one doesn’t bother me as much as twice as (negative attribute) does. –  tchrist Feb 2 '13 at 0:28
    
@tchrist: By these sorts of things, do you mean these ubiquitous NGrams, which take up so much space and convey so little? –  FumbleFingers Feb 2 '13 at 0:37

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