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If I have 10 items in my bag and my friend has 12, which of the following do I say?

I have two fewer items than they do.

or

I have two items fewer than they do.

In this page from CMOS, they say:

There are two fewer food groups in the new pyramid.

Does the order matter? Do different style guides encourage the use of different orders?


Note: this is not a question about "fewer" versus "less."

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Either is grammatical, according to the Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (Huddleston and Pullum 2002).

The comparative determinatives more, less, fewer can occur after the head provided there is a determiner. Thus we have a post-head alternant for one more day but not for more days: compare [One day more]/*[Days more] will be needed.

(Underlining in the original replaced by brackets, p.445)

I haven't yet found a style guide that addresses usage of the two word orders.

Here is a Wordreference thread about " I ran 2 more miles than her" vs. "I ran 2 miles more than her".

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  • Thank you. This is really helpful. – John B. Aug 3 at 5:20
  • The 2 miles example is correct either way, yes, but it's really not the same! The more works in either position. – Will Crawford Aug 3 at 9:39
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    And Cambridge… is actually saying it isn't valid if you have more than one (the asterisk in the quoted example is marking the "days more" as ungrammatical - see the notational conventions section at the beginning of the book, which says “The following symbols indicate the status of examples (in the interpretation under consideration): … * ungrammatical *This books is mine. … ”). – Will Crawford Aug 3 at 10:07
  • @WillCrawford: It's saying "Days more", without anything before it, is ungrammatical. With a determiner before the noun, "more" can come after whether the noun is singular or plural: "one day more" or "one more day", "two days more" or "two more days", "more days" but not *"days more". – herisson Aug 4 at 1:27
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"Two items fewer" is ungrammatical because fewer refers to the number of items, rather than the items themselves. Therefore, "two fewer items" is correct.

So,

two fewer items

is correct, meaning the count of my items is two lower than the count of theirs.

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  • I'm sorry, but I wasn't clear at all when I asked you to make it an answer. I just meant the part about the order, not the less vs. fewer debate. Would you mind removing the less vs. fewer part so I can accept the answer? – John B. Aug 3 at 1:27
  • Yes, absolutely. I wasn't having a dig, it just seemed humorous :) – Will Crawford Aug 3 at 1:46
  • If you meant all of it, I can do so but I do feel that part of the explanation does require pointing out the difference.. – Will Crawford Aug 3 at 1:49
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    No, I got you - I'll trim. It's not about the debate. – Will Crawford Aug 3 at 1:53
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    I think: thank you - that's a bit clearer, in fact. – Will Crawford Aug 3 at 2:03

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