1

Which is more correct?

Requested data must be 19 characters or fewer

Requested data must be 19 characters or less

There is a comparison between the actual and expected character counts, which is a countable thing. +1 for fewer.

There is another comparison between the actual and expected amount of data, which i use as an uncountable collective noun, "some data". +1 for less.

  • Fewer/less here applies only to the number. The word data, and arguably even characters, should not affect your choice. – Lawrence Feb 23 '17 at 1:52
  • You need firstly to realise that the 'count nouns take fewer, non-count take less' 'rule' is a rule of thumb (a good one) rather than always mandatory. 'That's one less problem' is far more common and natural-sounding than 'That's one fewer problem'. // The fewer / less here refers to 'characters' in the first instance. // The use of 'be' here is awkward if colloquial; 'consist of' as in 'The teams consist of 10 players or fewer' clarifies agreement to an extent. However, the first point in this comment muddies the waters: ... – Edwin Ashworth Feb 23 '17 at 2:25
  • These Google Ngrams would seem to indicate that 'less' may be the more popular choice even when the 'rule' argues against this.... – Edwin Ashworth Feb 23 '17 at 2:25
  • And these add weight to that argument. One in particular is a very strange graph. – Edwin Ashworth Feb 23 '17 at 2:26

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