Email Grammar Tips


by Kelly Watkins

Why is it “less” email, but “fewer” messages?

You may think there is no connection or relevance between constructing email messages with grammatically correct sentences and conducting the functions of a competent businessperson. However, your clients may disagree.


In order for customers to buy your products or use your services, they must have confidence in your abilities. Using proper grammar is important to make a positive impression.

The same can be said for internal correspondence within a corporation. Coworkers in other departments may not know anything about the work you do, but they may know English grammar. And, they may be quick to point out when you don’t use that English grammar properly.

Since space prohibits a lengthy discussion on proper grammar, the following is a brief discussion of one common grammatical problem. Watch for these errors when composing your email messages.

Fewer or Less

Determining whether to use the word “fewer” or the word “less” can be tricky. Here are two techniques to help.


1. Quantifiable Method

One technique is called the quantifiable method. Ask yourself if you can count the individual items (e.g., apples, paper clips, calculators) or if you can’t count the quantity (e.g., food, time, patience).

•If you can count the items, use “fewer.”

•If you can’t then count the items, use “less.”

For example, you can count the number of email messages you receive. And, most people want FEWER messages! Why? Because they’d like to spend LESS time on email.

2. Much or Many Method

Here is the second technique to help you determine whether to use the word “fewer” or the word “less.” This method is a little quirky. But, hey, “quirky” is more fun and that makes it easier to remember.

If you can rephrase the sentence by using the word “much,” then you select the word “less.” On the other hand, if you can rephrase the sentence by using the word “many,” then you select the word “fewer.”

•Many = “fewer.”

•Much = “less.”

for example:

The following example demonstrates how to determine when to use the word “fewer” and when to use the word “less.” This example illustrates both the quantifiable method and the quirky “much or many” method.

Determining When to Use “Fewer” or “Less”

Quantifiable Method:

•If you can count the items, use “fewer.”

For example: There are fewer than six cars in the parking lot.

•If you cannot count the items, use “less.”

For example: We had less gasoline in the car than we thought.

Much or Many Method:

•If you would use “many,” then use “fewer.”

For example:

She doesn’t have many students. Therefore, she has fewer students.

•If you would use “much,” then use “less.”

For example:

I don’t have much time.  Therefore, I have less time.

Regardless of which method you use, be aware of the impression you’re making with your email messages.

You’ll suffer LESS stress if you can retain MORE customers and staff by being professional.



About the Author: Kelly J. Watkins, MBA, Louisville, KY. Visit: to order, Email Etiquette Made Easy (a comprehensive guide filled with exercises & examples) or for tips on communication & customer service! (812) 246-2424 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..