If we’ve lost a team member, do we have ‘one member less’, ‘one less member’, ‘one member fewer’, or ‘one fewer member’?


  • 3
    I believe we are in the process of losing the word "fewer" from the language, if I hear someone say "there are fewer people here today than yesterday" I expect the speaker to be over fifty. People under fifty would almost always say "there are less people here today than yesterday". It sounds awkward to me but "fewer" probably sounds old fashioned to them. Having said that the better form whichever you use is "one member fewer" or "one member less".
    – BoldBen
    Jan 17, 2019 at 8:13
  • 2
    @BoldBen The idiomatic choice is by a long chalk 'That's one less problem.' [Google ngrams] Jul 17, 2021 at 11:47

4 Answers 4


Use "fewer" when referring to nouns that you can count, including "member." (My team has one member, two members, three members ...) That means either "one member fewer" or "one fewer member" is correct.

However, it's important to note that in casual, everyday English, many people will use "less" in this case. According to most linguists, that makes "less" acceptable -- which is different from "correct." When considering this sentence, you may want to think about who's talking and who's listening or reading. Using correct English is wonderful, but it's not always necessary!

  • 3
    This is poor advice. "One member fewer" is OK; "One fewer member" is clumsy. "One less member" is better than both. There are contexts where "fewer" can work better, but the use of "fewer" for countable nouns has never been a rule; the only rule (to the extent that such things exist) is that you can't use "fewer" with uncountables.
    – psmears
    Jul 16, 2021 at 21:53
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    But acceptability is usage driven. Here is an article by Michael Rundell at MacmillanDictionaryblog containing 'People have been using less with plural nouns for as long as English has existed.' and '[T]he rule about using less only with uncountable nouns [is merely a] “rule” [ie cannot be justifiably held to be inviolable].' Jul 17, 2021 at 11:42
  • 1
    @EdwinAshworth Even though they’re all plural, I rather suspect that you can never have one fewer people or one fewer thanks or one fewer trousers or one fewer cattle or one fewer clothes or one fewer genitals or one fewer heroics or one fewer surroundings though. :)
    – tchrist
    Jul 18, 2021 at 0:48
  • @tchrist You can possibly have 2000 fewer police, though almost certainly not 2 fewer police. Even the --- count/non-count --- plural/singular morphologically --- taking a singular/plural verb form --- etically denumerable --- schema doesn't work. Jul 18, 2021 at 15:59

BKlyn df's answer does not give the complete picture. It can be a matter of stylistic choice. From the Chicago Manual of Style (https://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/qanda/data/faq/topics/Usage/faq0304.html):

A. If the countable noun is plural, choose fewer; if it’s singular, choose less. (When CMOS says to reserve fewer for countable things, it’s talking about plural countable things. When it says to reserve less for mass nouns, it means singular mass nouns.) One is always singular: there is one less food group in the new pyramid; there is one less number in this column. Two (or more) is plural: there are two fewer food groups in the new pyramid; there are three fewer numbers in this column.

  • 7
    It should be remembered that the Chicago Manual of Style is simply a manual of style not the manual of style. Dec 3, 2019 at 15:28
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    @KillingTime On the other hand, it's immeasurably better than that mentioned in the accepted (and in psmears' and my, and hopefully your, opinion incorrect) answer. Jul 17, 2021 at 11:33

This appears to be a preference that evolved into a rule and is now evolving back into a preference, with the word 'Fewer' losing out at both ends of the spectrum. Let's start with the rule. 'Fewer' for plurals, 'Less' for singular (and uncountable) nouns. This has sometimes been described as 'Fewer' for things you count and 'Less' for things you measure, although that can sometimes muddy the water and throws up more exceptions. So...

Fewer cars, less traffic. Fewer grains, less rice. Fewer cattle, less beefstock. Fewer people, less human presence. Fewer clouds, less cloud. Basically... Fewer things, less stuff.

By this rule (and to my ear) it is 'one fewer members'. i.e. Question 'How many members are there now?' Answer would be 'One fewer than before'. Or 'There are fewer members than before''How many fewer?' 'One fewer'. Because you are talking about the group of members, not the individual.

Now let's look another apparent exception concerning 'less than'.

'It is less than 5 miles.'

This is not really an exception because it is actually a contraction of 'It is a distance less than 5 miles', the subject being the distance (singular) between points A and B. However, the answer to 'How many miles to point B?' would be 'Fewer than 5 miles!'

It is the same situation with 'It is less than £5'. It is a contraction of 'The price (singular) is less than £5' but in answer to 'How many pounds is it going to cost me?' a reassuring 'Fewer than £5' is correct.

However, in my experience, the word 'fewer' is fading fast (much to my chagrin).

  • 2
    These Google 3-grams would seem to indicate that 'one fewer problem / one problem fewer' have had few advocates for at least 200 years. The same seems true for 'one fewer person' etc also. Mar 29, 2023 at 10:01

In “One member less” the phrase “one member” is a quantifier for “less” specifying the degree of less-ness. “One member fewer” is similar. A well-known rule prefers “fewer” since “member” is countable. Some prefer usage to rules.

“One less member” uses “one less” to quantify “member”. Usage accepts this. One could argue that “one less members” is better (or “one fewer members”). After the loss of one member, how many members are left? “One less”.

  • Hi Jimbo, welcome to EL&U. Could you clarify what the "most recent rule" is that you mention? What is your conclusion? Please take a moment to tour the site and see the FAQ.
    – livresque
    Jul 16, 2021 at 23:08
  • 1
    You have to make member agree with its numeric quantifier here, so when just one member has left, it’s one less/fewer member in the singular, but if two members have left, then it’s two less/fewer members in the plural. If no members have left, then it’s no less/fewer members, since only one is singular and anything else is plural.
    – tchrist
    Jul 18, 2021 at 0:43
  • One less describes the number remaining, not the number lost.
    – Jimbo
    Jul 18, 2021 at 16:56

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