1) In fact, NO LESS THAN 20 percent of people are injured severely due to car accidents.

2) However, because people whose cars had collided and were severely wounded were occupying the intensive units in the hospital, it took NO FEWER THAN an hour for him to have surgery despite his life threatening condition.

These are two sentences that I wrote in a practice writing, but my teacher (Canadian) said the use of "no less than and no fewer than" didn't make sense.

I thought those are used to describe emphasis of numbers.

Could you someone help me understand why it's wrong so that I can improve my English. Thank you


No less than and no fewer than can be used interchangeably in many cases.

To native English speakers, "fewer" should refer to a plural number. "An hour" is singular, therefore "fewer than an hour" doesn't sound right to a native English speaker.

You could say "no fewer than 60 minutes" and nobody would be concerned. For "an hour" you would need to use "less" instead of fewer.

I don't think that there is a compelling argument for why this grammatical distinction is made. Hellion pointed to an answer that tries to make this distinction, but as the answer points out, trying to force an absolute on this distinction is problematic.

Sometimes English has quirks that defy strict grammar rules.

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  • I see. What do you think that" no fewer than two hours' aren't correct as Sawbarnes mentioned? – たかはし りょうじゅ Feb 9 '17 at 19:50
  • @たかはし りょうじゅ I disagree with swbarnes2 regarding "no fewer than two hours". First of all, "two hours" is a discreet number of hours. Furthermore, the argument that "fewer" is for discreet objects and "less" is for mass objects is based on the desire to force English grammar to follow strict rules, when in practice there are many times when multiple exceptions make such strict rules meaningless. Sometimes in English things just "sound wrong" to native speakers. Often grammarians try, in vain, I think, to codify what sounds right and what sounds wrong. – Joel Brown Feb 10 '17 at 3:21

Use fewer when referring to things or people in the plural

use less when referring to things that can't be counted, don't have a plural, with measurements or with amounts on their own.

For instance: There were fewer people present. (Plural) I have fewer options available. (Plural)

I have less than 4 options. (measurement)

There were less than 4 (amount on its own)

I have less time left now. (No plural)

You should listen to less music (can't be counted and no plural)

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  • Thinking about your examples: I'd go with less than a mile (measurement) but why less than 4 options. How about: We expected 20 people at the meeting but fewer than 10 turned up. (Amount on its own) These may be examples where most speakers would be comfortable with either choice. – Ronald Sole Feb 9 '17 at 0:33
  • I see. So is " less than 4 ways" to describe measurement correct? – たかはし りょうじゅ Feb 9 '17 at 19:53

2 is definitely wrong. You might say "It took no fewer than 5 people to move that stone", but you can't say "It too no fewer than two hours". I think because 5 people is a discrete number while 2 hours is a mass quantity.

Honestly, I could go either way on 1), they both sound a bit weird. "As many as 20% of people" sounds a lot more natural. I might say "As much as 20% of the population", again, because people are discrete, and the population is one mass lump sum.

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  • I see. Thank you all for a lucid explanation!! I appreciate that. When you use " no less or fewer than", object should be discreet, right? Plus, Joel Brown says " no less than 60 mins" would be fine, but it is not discreet, it's it? – たかはし りょうじゅ Feb 9 '17 at 19:44

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