More than vs Greater than and Less than vs Fewer than

By | gmat


“MORE/GREATER/FEWER/LESS than”

What’s the difference?

When are we supposed to use “more than” and when are we supposed to use “greater than”?

What about “fewer than” or “less than”?

Is there a difference?

Yes.

The answer partially lies in whether something is COUNTABLE or NOT COUNTABLE

The 3 Rules for MORE/GREATER/LESS/FEWER than…

1) If COUNTABLE (dogs, apartments, opportunities, agencies, people)

-> then Use MORE/FEWER than combination

2) If COUNTABLE, but related to time, distance, or money OR if NOT-COUNTABLE

-> then Use MORE/LESS than combination

3) For BOTH COUNTABLE & NOT-COUNTABLE, if there is a comparison made between the LEVEL or DEGREE or NUMBER of something

-> then Use GREATER THAN/LESS THAN combination

So in summary, there are only 3 possible combinations:
1) MORE/FEWER than
2) MORE/LESS than
3) GREATER/LESS than


Let me repeat that.

For words that are countable, use option #1: MORE/FEWER than.

For words that are related to time, money, or distance OR are not-countable, use option #2: MORE/LESS than

For words that are structurally positioned such that a comparison is made between the level of / degree of / number of something, use option #3: GREATER/LESS than.

That’s it – those are the only 3 possible combinations.

Really, options #1 and #2 cover most situations.

Option #3 has to do more with structure.

Yes, simply changing the structure of the sentence can make you go from the 2 default options MORE/LESS or MORE/FEWER –> to the option #3: GREATER/LESS

For example, let’s use the word LOVE.

General Example #1: LOVE

If we want to compare the degree of one’s love to that of another, it would look like this:

1) My love is GREATER/LESS than x’s love.”

Now, is it possible to say this same thought — but instead of using the GREATER/LESS than combination, we use the MORE/LESS or MORE/FEWER combination?

Yes, it’s possible.

Since LOVE is a non-countable word – we cannot use the MORE/FEWER combination. We would have to use the MORE/LESS combination.

So it would look like this:

2) I have MORE/LESS love than you do”

Notice both sentences are talking about LOVE – a NOT-COUNTABLE thing – but in the first example, you are comparing the degree of “my love” versus the degree of “x’s love” – whereas in the second example, you are simply saying that “I have MORE/LESS” love than you do.

So you have 2 options. GREATER/LESS or MORE/LESS when it comes to the word LOVE. The other option MORE/FEWER than does not apply.

General Example #2: OPPORTUNITIES

1) The number of opportunities he has is GREATER/LESS than x
Now, is it possible, to express this same thought about opportunities – but express it without using the GREATER/LESS than combination?

Yes, it is possible.

Although the word “opportunities” is countable, it lies in the phrase “number of opportunities.” That’s why we must use GREATER/LESS than above.

If we do not want to use GREATER/LESS than combination, then we must change the STRUCTURE of the phrase.

So instead of saying “the number of opportunities” – we should change it to:

2) He has MORE/FEWER opportunities than x.

Since “opportunities” is countable – and we are not dealing with level of / degree of / or number of – situation, we are free to use the standard MORE/FEWER combination.

Hence you can say:

He has more opportunities than x.

or

He has fewer opportunities than x.


RULE: For COUNTABLE words – use the standard MORE/FEWER combination

BUT if comparing level, degree of, or number of – then use GREATER/LESS THAN

COUNTABLE words include:

people, phones, trees, doors, cars, Christmas lights, potluck dinners, households, etc

Countable Example #1: Dogs

More than 5 dogs (correct)
Greater than 5 dogs (wrong)
Fewer than 5 dogs (correct)
Less than 5 dogs (wrong)

Yes, you can ask “how many dogs?” – hence, use MORE/FEWER THAN

Countable Example #2: Apartments

More than 5 apartments (correct)
Greater than 5 apartments (wrong)
Fewer than 5 apartments (correct)
Less than 5 apartments (wrong)

Yes, you can ask “How many apartments?” – hence, use MORE/FEWER THAN

Countable Example #3: Girlfriends

More than 5 girlfriends (correct)
Greater than 5 girlfriends (wrong)
Fewer than 5 girlfriends (correct)
Less than 5 girlfriends (wrong)

Yes, you can ask “How many girlfriends?” – hence, use MORE/FEWER THAN

Summary for COUNTABLE words

Notice for countable words – it’s quite simple. Just use the default MORE/FEWER THAN combination. Do NOT use the MORE/LESS than combination.

The only difference lies in the FEWER vs LESS for these countable words.

But if you are thinking about using GREATER or MORE THAN – almost always use MORE THAN. You only use GREATER than when you structure the phrase in a way such that you are comparing level of / degree of / or number of the item you are referencing.

So in short – for COUNTABLE words, use MORE/FEWER THAN.

RULE: For NON-COUNTABLE words, use MORE/LESS THAN

BUT if comparing level, degree of, or number of – then use GREATER/LESS THAN

NON-COUNTABLE words include:

land, love, money, water, information, happiness, time, good behavior, building materials

Non-Countable Example #1:

LOVE -> Use MORE/LESS THAN

I have MORE love for her than you do. (correct) – because of level or degree NOT involved, –> use MORE THAN
I have GREATER love for her than you do. (wrong) –
I have FEWER love for her than you do. (wrong)
I have LESS love for her than you do. (correct)

My [level or degree of] love (NOT countable) for her is MORE than yours. (wrong)
My [level or degree of] love (NOT countable) for her is GREATER than yours. (correct) – because of level or degree
My [level or degree of] love (NOT countable) for her is FEWER than yours. (wrong)
My [level or degree of] love (NOT countable) for her is LESS than yours. (correct)

In summary (LOVE):

1) My [level or degree of] love (NOT countable) for her is [GREATER/LESS] than yours. (correct) – because of level or degree
2) I have [MORE/LESS] love for her than you do (correct)


Non-Countable Example #2:

LAND -> Use MORE/LESS THAN

I have MORE land than you do (correct)
I have GREATER land than you do (wrong)

I have FEWER land than you do (wrong)
I have LESS land than you do (correct)

The [level or degree of] fertility of my land is MORE than that of your land. (wrong)
The [level or degree of] fertility of my land is GREATER than that of your land. (correct) – because of level or degree
The [level or degree of] fertility of my land is FEWER than that of your land. (wrong)
The [level or degree of] fertility of my land is LESS than that of your land. (correct) – because of level or degree

In summary (land):

1) I have MORE/LESS land than you do (correct)
2) The fertility of my land is GREATER/LESS than that of your land. (correct) – because of level or degree


Non-Countable Example #3:

HAPPINESS -> Use MORE/LESS THAN
I have MORE happiness now than ever. (correct)

I have GREATER happiness now than ever. (wrong)
I have FEWER happiness now than ever. (wrong)
I have LESS happiness now than ever. (correct)

My [level or degree of] happiness (NOT countable) is MORE than his. (wrong)
My [level or degree of] happiness (NOT countable) is GREATER than his. (correct) -because of level or degree
My [level or degree of] happiness (NOT countable) is FEWER than his. (wrong)
My [level or degree of] happiness (NOT countable) is LESS than his. (correct)

In summary (happiness):

1) I have MORE/LESS happiness now than ever. (correct)
2)
My [level or degree of] happiness (NOT countable) is GREATER/LESS than his. (correct) -because of level or degree


Non-Countable Example #4:

TIME (regardless of countable or non-countable)-> Use MORE/LESS THAN

But if comparing level, degree of, or number of – then use GREATER/LESS THAN

I have MORE time (NOT countable) than I need. (correct)
I have GREATER time (NOT countable) than I need. (wrong)
I have FEWER time (NOT countable) than I need (wrong)
I have LESS time (NOT countable) than I need (correct)

I study MORE than 40 minutes a day. (correct)
I study GREATER than 40 minutes a day. (wrong)
I study FEWER than 40 minutes a day. (wrong)
I study LESS than 40 minutes a day. (correct)

In summary (time):

1) I have MORE/LESS time than I need.
2)
The amount of time I have is GREATER/LESS than what I need.
3) I work MORE/LESS than 40 hours a week. 4) I study MORE/LESS than 40 minutes a day. 5) My study time is GREATER/LESS than 40 minutes a day.


Non-Countable Example #5:

MONEY (regardless of countable or non-countable) -> Use MORE/LESS THAN

But if comparing level, degree of, or number of – then use GREATER/LESS THAN
1) Country X has MORE/LESS money than country Y has.
2)
Country X’s money supply is GREATER/LESS than that of country Y.


Non-Countable Example #6:

DISTANCE (regardless of countable or non-countable)-> Use MORE/LESS THAN

But if comparing level, degree of, or number of – then use GREATER/LESS THAN

I have MORE than 3 miles left. (correct)
I have GREATER than 3 miles left. (incorrect)
I have FEWER than 3 miles left. (wrong)
I have LESS than 3 miles left. (correct)

In Summary (distance): 1) I have MORE/LESS than 3 miles left.
2)
The number of miles I have left is GREATER/LESS than 3 miles.


Some more details on using GREATER/LESS THAN for level of, degree of, or number of….

Use GREATER THAN / LESS THAN – when comparing # of:

The number of apples is MORE than the number of oranges. (wrong)

The number of apples is GREATER than the number of oranges. (correct)

The number of apples is FEWER than the number of oranges. (wrong)
The number of apples is LESS than the number of oranges. (correct)

What about Percentages (%) ?

Percentages are numbers, right? So since they they refer to a single quantity, then it must mean that what follows is COUNTABLE, right?

Or is it because there’s a number – then that means it IS countable?

Both are wrong.

You see, sometimes you say:

1) fewer than 40 percent

And sometimes you say:

2) less than 40 percent

What’s the difference?

Well, the difference lies in what FOLLOWS the 40 percent.

40 percent of what? It matters.

Although we may think of percentages as single quantities rather as something COUNTABLE, when they refer to something countable, then you use FEWER THAN instead of LESS THAN.

COUNTABLE Examples:

1) fewer than 40 percent of households (households is countable -> use FEWER THAN)
2) fewer than 40 percent of Christmas lists (Christmas lists is countable -> use FEWER THAN)
3) fewer than 40 percent of potluck dinners (potluck dinners is countable -> use FEWER THAN)

NON-COUNTABLE Examples:

1) less than 40 percent of building materials (building materials is NOT countable -> use LESS THAN)
2) less than 40 percent of good behavior (good behavior is NOT countable -> use LESS THAN)
3) less than 40 percent of the jello mold (jello mold is NOT countable -> use LESS THAN)

So when it comes to percentages – you need to ask yourself: “percentage of WHAT?”

Because if you’re talking about percentage of something that is COUNTABLE, then you use FEWER THAN.

But if you’re talking about the percentage of something that is NON-COUNTABLE, then you use LESS THAN.

Conclusion

There are only 3 possible combinations of these “degree” words that are possible

1) MORE THAN / FEWER THAN
2) MORE THAN / LESS THAN
3) GREATER THAN /LESS THAN

Use #1 for COUNTABLE phrases.

Use #2 for NON-COUNTABLE phrases OR countable ones that involve time, money, or distance (miles, # of square feet, less than $5, etc)

Use #3 when the structure of the phrase is positioned so that you are comparing the DEGREE / LEVEL / or NUMBER of something.

If you take “# of square feet” as an example – this is something that involves DISTANCE – so we use MORE THAN/LESS THAN (option #2).

You would say

“I have less than 700 square feet in my apartment.”

But you could use also change the structure of the phrase in order to use #3 GREATER THAN / LESS THAN by saying:

“The number of square feet in my apartment is GREATER THAN / LESS THAN the number of square feet in your apartment.”

So the same word/phrase can use up to 2 different combinations from the list of 3 total possible combinations.

Know these combinations and you’ll be that much smarter.

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