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Is it: Less than/Fewer than 20 percent of the doctors replied.

Thank you.

marked as duplicate by user140086, tchrist, Mitch, Peter Shor , Jim Dec 20 '15 at 23:19

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  • @tchrist Yes, this answer is particularly relevant. – Lawrence Dec 20 '15 at 18:07
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    If a room contains fewer than one doctor, there are unequivocally zero doctors in the room. If it contains less than one doctor - it's possible there's still part of a doctor (who might be wishing there were a few more doctors around). – Darrel Hoffman Dec 20 '15 at 21:17
  • Disagree: This particular question is related, to be sure, but it's a significantly different case. That was an open and shut case which had answers that were generally good, but a bit vague for this example. This involves a fluid descriptor applied to a countable quantity. Even if the answer is there, calling it out here will likely help people find the answer. – The Nate Dec 20 '15 at 21:21

Although I may receive contentious comments for saying so, either is acceptable usage, although there might be a slight preference among would-be grammarians for "fewer than."

  • Completely agree, in this case, since the set described is countable and the descriptor "percent" is continuous. I prefer "less than", myself, due to the latter. – The Nate Dec 20 '15 at 21:14

If "percent" is just a quantification noun, then it follows that the count-noun "doctors" is head of the NP "20 percent of the doctors". And according to the 'rule' that count nouns take "fewer" and the rest take "less", then "fewer" would seem to be correct.

But it's very easy to mistakenly see "20 percent" as the head of the NP (like a partitive). And that coupled with the fact that "percent" is singular-only (there's no *20 percents) is likely to lead to the wrong conclusion that "20 percent" is a non-count noun phrase as head, and hence "less" must be correct.

Seems a free choice to me.

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