Although I’m an avid reader and a dedicated writer, I don’t care much about grammar. Let me clarify: I am committed to getting grammar right, but I’m not someone who revels in the rules. In my mind, grammar is utility, not art.
But my indifference didn’t prevent me from enjoying Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen by New Yorker copy editor Mary Norris. Ms. Norris is a stickler, for sure, but she’s also an entertaining writer.
Even better, The New Yorker has created a series of videos featuring Ms. Norris explaining various grammatical rules that people often struggle with. (This is a bit ironic: You don’t have to read the book, just watch.)
My favorite: the difference between less and fewer.
In the English language, more is used for everything. But there’s an ironclad rule about when to use less and when to use fewer. (No reason to argue; this is not negotiable!)
I’ll let Ms. Norris explain:
“Use fewer for separate items that are countable. Use less for something in bulk that can’t be counted.”
“For instance, if I were Julia Child and I were whipping up a batch of scones, I would use fewer raisins and less flour. Raisins you can count; flour, you measure. You can’t say, ‘I’ll have one or two flours.’”
Ms. Norris is happy to put this issue to rest The New Yorker gets a lot of mail about less vs. fewer. As she puts it, now she’s going to receive, “Less mail. Fewer letters.”