More Problems with Words and Punctuation

A number of people have written in to express their anger over various misuses of the apostrophe - and also to ask why we don't do something about other misuses (of words this time) which annoy them. We offer some guidance for you here.


The confusion over LESS and FEWER


The rule concerning this is so simple that there should be no excuse for getting it wrong!

  • LESS is used when the number referred to is general

  • FEWER is used when the number refers to individual items



  • There is LESS traffic about today.

  • There are FEWER cars about today.

  • It is LESS crowded in the park.

  • There are FEWER people in the park.

  • There is LESS choice in this dress shop than in the other one.

  • There are FEWER dresses in this shop than in the other one.

Never, never use: There are ... less cars, less people, less dresses.


When to use WHO or WHOM


"Whom" is used less frequently these days but, if used, it should be used correctly.  It is used to refer to the object of a sentence and the easy way to remember this is the he/him question:

  • "That's the man who mends radios".  HE mends radios so it is "who".

  • "A man whom I know mends radios".  I know HIM, so it is "whom". (No one ever says "I know he"!).


It is exactly the same with the she/her question. When it's "she" it is "who", but when it is "her' it is "whom":

  • "That's the girl who works from home".  SHE works from home so it is  "who".

  • "A girl whom I met recently works from home". "I met HER" so it is "whom".