As a professional writer, I’m being driven nuts by the poor grammar used in the commercials I’m forced to see throughout the day. I also cringe at the lack of knowledge of the English language used by some of the major network broadcasters. I just want to write to them and say “No!”
Here are a couple of infractions I’ve noticed lately:
Farther vs. Further
The common rule, according to Dictionary.com, is that farther is used when discussing distances, while further is used for a figurative distance or to discuss degree or extent.
- Examples of farther include: “He went farther down the road.” “The weather front has farther to go to reach our area.”
- Examples of further include: “I want to further work on this project.” “I want to discuss it further, but we’re out of time.”
Fewer vs. Less
“Fewer” refers to a small number or is used to emphasize how small a number of people or things is, while “less” refers to things that are uncountable or imprecise. A quick tip from Grammar Girl is to use fewer for things you can count, and less for things you don’t count.
You eat fewer M&Ms and drink fewer glasses of water because you can count them. You eat less candy, or drink less water, because you can’t count them.
But, of course, there are always exceptions, and in this case, they are with time, money, distance and weight, and generally use “less than.”
- “We have less than $10,000 dollars in the bank.”
- “We’re less than 100 miles away from home.”
- “We can replace that wall in less than 10 hours.”
- “That bag of potatoes weighs less than this bag of grapefruit.”
More Than vs. Over
In AP style, which is the basis for most professional writing, the use of “over” is used only in reference to physical proximity. When using numbers, the phrase “more than” is more appropriate.
- Examples of more than include: “We are not allowed to spend more than $12 million on this project.” “More than 2,000 people showed up for the event.”
- Examples of over include: “That building towers over the courthouse.” “The cover is over the cage.”
But alas, according to a 2014 allowance by the AP stylebook, over, as well as more than, is now acceptable to indicate greater numerical value, although purists and most journalists will continue to use more than.
And don’t get me started on “lay” and “lie.” In a quick rule of thumb…only chickens lay.