Plain Language Commission . Clear English Standard


  1. Fall of Troy
  2. Subeditors a dying breed, says new website
  3. Plain language and the courts
  4. Deceptive language – food from fake farms
  5. Pikestaff 75 – read it now
  6. Jottings
  7. Jargon for grown-ups
  8. English to be Latin of EU?
  9. Large amount of amounts
  10. ‘The reason is because’
  11. Clichés – ‘wash down’, again
Go to archive

News & views

Phew, what a stickler

[13 May 2013] The army of people who dislike supermarket placards declaring ‘Five items or less’ above certain checkout lanes (they prefer the standard English ‘Five items or fewer’) have found an ally in Albert Beale, who writes thus to the Guardian on 1 April:

‘When refusing to comply with a supermarket notice about “five items or less”, on the grounds that it was not validly expressed, and being told by a manager that the words I was arguing about meant the same thing, I responded: “So are you one of the less intelligent managers here, or are you one of the few intelligent managers here?”

That’s a great putdown but does it stand up to the scrutiny of other sticklers? Our office grammarian sniffs:

‘Yes, standard English prefers “less bread, fewer loaves” because it generally requires “less” with a singular and “fewer” with a plural. But Mr Beale is confusing the use of “less” as a comparative in “less intelligent managers” with the use of “few” as a noun in “the few intelligent managers”. There’s no connection between his “less” and “few” and the “less” and “fewer” of the placard.’

Glad we’ve sorted that out.

Yes, I accept the cookie. No, I decline the cookie. would like to place a cookie on your computer to help us make this website better. To find out more about the cookies, see our privacy policy