Via this column, we’ll explore one grammar rule each week. If you have a grammar question you’d like me to address, please drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll do my best to answer it.
The March Hare, a minor character in Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland,” is remembered for his antics at the infamous tea party with the Mad Hatter and the Dormouse, whom Alice stumbles upon during her wanderings down the rabbit hole.
Like all hares and rabbits in early spring, the March Hare is frenzied, or “mad as a March Hare,” as the saying goes. This particular hare seems mad about tea; he repeatedly offers Alice a cup and then whisks it away every time she tries to drink. By the end of the party, he has considerably less tea, or fewer cups of tea, illustrating the grammatical adage that “fewer” refers to quantifiable amounts and “less” refers to uncountable amounts.
Here are some other examples:
- The Dormouse (whose name is a play on the French verb “to sleep”) is a lazy rodent who has fewer hours in the day because he sleeps so much.
- The Mad Hatter, on the other hand, gets significantly less sleep because he’s incessantly singing “The Unbirthday Song,” annoying everyone around him.
- There are fewer empty seats at the tea party after Alice sits down, leaving less space at the table for others.
- Hoping they would call her back, Alice has fewer Wonderland characters to meet and less time to meet them after leaving the Hare, Hatter and Dormouse, still at their tea.
Whether or not you’re less mad than the March Hare, hopefully you’ll make fewer grammatical mistakes if you remember this rule.
Written by Grace Lavigne, senior editor of ProfNet, a service that helps journalists connect with expert sources. Grammar Hammer is published weekly on ProfNet Connect, a free social networking site for communicators. To read more from Grace, check out her blog on ProfNet Connect.