First, a few Sentence Correction practice questions, all on related grammatical themes.
1) Company policy restricts employees to, at most, three personal days in a month, and even less if the number of Fridays in the month is more than four.
- (A) even less if the number of Fridays in the month is more than four
(B) even less if the amount of Fridays in the month is more than four
(C) even fewer if the number of Fridays in the month is greater than four
(D) even fewer if the amount of Fridays in the month is more than four
(E) even less if the number of Fridays in the month is greater than four
2) The film professor said he regarded Leni Riefenstahl more like a pioneer of cinematographic aesthetics instead of being a Nazi propagandist.
- (A) more like a pioneer of cinematographic aesthetics instead of being
(B) more as a pioneer of cinematographic aesthetics than as
(C) more as a pioneer of cinematographic aesthetics instead of being
(D) mainly like a pioneer of cinematographic aesthetics, instead of like
(E) mainly as a pioneer of cinematographic aesthetics, as opposed to
3) For every one hundred applicants who send their resume to Megatonic Consulting, the interview committee will interview less than six of them.
- (A) the interview committee will interview less than six of them
(B) under six of them will be interviewed by the committee
(C) an interview conducted by the committee will be given to fewer than six of that hundred
(D) less than six of that hundred will have a committee interview
(E) fewer than six will be interviewed by the committee
4) Major League Baseball policy prohibits use of anabolic steroids, human growth hormone, and no illegal drugs.
- (A) and no
(B) and any
(C) or no
(D) or any
(E) or anything that would be an
5) The controversial restructuring plan for the county school district, if approved by the governor, would result in 30% fewer teachers and 15% less classroom contact-time throughout schools in the county.
- (A) in 30% fewer teachers and 15% less
(B) in 30% fewer teachers and 15% fewer
(C) in 30% less teachers and 15% less
(D) with 30% fewer teachers and 15% fewer
(E) with 30% less teachers and 15% less
Solutions will follow this article.
Comparisons and quantities in grammar
In two previous posts, I have introduced these issues.
The first explores the basic issue of countable vs. uncountable: this includes the infamous distinction of “less vs. fewer”, one of the most widely condoned grammatical errors in English. The second explores the grammar & idioms employed to discuss changing quantities, whether increases or decreases. This post expands into a number of related grammatical situations and idioms:
(i) more X than Y
(ii) for every # P, #Q
(iii) not A, B, and/or C
(iv) comparatives (increases & decreases) with countable quantities, uncountable items, pure numbers, and percents
More X than Y
Some things in life are black and white, either this or that. Some other things, though, admit of shades of gray —- aspect #1 is more true, and aspect #2 is less true. This idiom is for such cases. The X and Y, of course, must have parallel structure. If a preposition is involved, remember the once outside or twice inside rule.
6) She lectured the students more with a sense of duty than with any enthusiasm.
7) He set the table with more knives than forks.
9) She said she considered Willy Mays more an all-around superstar than simply a great hitter.
For every # P, # Q
This idiom is ideal for discussing ratios. Suppose items A and B are in a ratio of x:y. Then we could say: For every x A’s, y B’s are …. Often, after the comma, the very next thing stated is the second number of the ratio. (This number may be qualified by an adverb or short adverbial phrase —- only, at least, more than, etc.) If the first number is a direct object, then the second number may follow a short [noun] + [verb] combination.
11) Among general employees at Ophiuchus Corporation, men and women are equally represented, but for every 17 male managers, there are only two female managers.
13) For every 5 drops of precipitation that falls somewhere on earth, only one falls somewhere on land.
“And/or” with “not” and negatives
Suppose we have three items, A, B, and C, and we could have or not have any one of them in any combination. There are eight cases.
Case #1: none
Case #2: A
Case #3: B
Case #4: C
Case #5: A + B
Case #6: A + C
Case #7: B + C
Case #8: all three
The phrase “A, B, or C” includes cases #2-8 — very inclusive. The phrase “A, B, and C” includes only case #8 — very exclusive. The word “not” or any other negative word (e.g. “without“) changes these to the complement: that is to say, every included in positive is excluded in the negative, and vice versa. Thus, “not A, B, or C” means case #1 only — very exclusive. By contrast, “not A, B, and C” means cases #1-7 — very inclusive. Most often in such cases, people are trying to say “none” (i.e. Case #1), and don’t realize they need the word “or” to say that.
Increasing and decreasing, case A: countable nouns
Any things that can be counted one at time are countable nouns. The hallmark question for countable nouns is “how many?” — if you would ask “how many X?” then X is countable. For countable nouns:
Increase: more — more cars, more books, more people, more insects, more gallons of milk, more hours, more miles
Decrease: fewer — fewer cars, fewer books, fewer people, fewer insects, fewer gallons of milk, fewer hours, fewer miles
Increasing and decreasing, case B: uncountable bulk
Anything that is continuous without discrete units is an uncountable noun. The hallmark question for uncountable nouns is “how much?” — if you would ask “how much X?” then X is uncountable. For uncountable nouns:
Increase: more — more cheese, more rain, more fluency, more justice, more milk, more time, more distance
Decrease: less — less cheese, less rain, less fluency, less justice, less milk, less time, less distance
Increasing and decreasing, case C: numbers
Sometimes we have occasion to talk about either pure mathematical number (i.e. a counted number) or real-world quantities that are numbers — the price of something, the volume of something, the temperature of something, etc. Here, things are far more idiomatic. For pure numbers, counts, we use “greater than” and “less than“. For some quantities, such as price and temperature, we speak of “higher than” and “lower than“. For other, having to do with size, we speak of “larger than” and “smaller than“.
Increasing and decreasing, case D: percents
If we are taking the percent of something countable, then we follow the countable rules, Case A above. If we are taking the percent of something uncountable, then we follow the uncountable rules, Case B above.
If this article gave you any “aha!” moments, you may want to look over the questions at the top before reading the solutions below. Here’s another practice question:
If you would like to add anything or have any questions, please let us know in the comments section below.
Practice problem explanations
1) Split #1: We are talking about how many personal days. The phrase “how many” means countable, which means we must use “fewer“, not “less.” Only choices (C) & (D) get this correct, and the rest are wrong.
Split #2: we can count how many Fridays in a month. The phrase “how many” means countable, which means we must use “number“, not “amount“. Only choices (A) & (C) & (E) get this correct.
Split #3: the “number” of Fridays is a number. It probably would be acceptable to say “more than four“, but technically, it is better to say “greater than four.”
The only possible answer is (C).
2) Split #1: idiom. The correct idiom is “to regard as“, not “to regard like”, which is always wrong. Because of this, choices (A) & (E) are incorrect.
Split #2: the correct comparative idiom is “more P than Q“. Only choice (B) uses this correctly.
The only possible answer is (B).
3) Split #1: the question is: how many will the interview committee interview? The phrase “how many” means countable, which means we must use “fewer“, not “less” or “under“. Only choices (C) & (E) get this correct.
Split #2: this sentence uses the idiom For every #P, #Q, so we want the numerical phrase close to the beginning of the second half. Choice (E) begins with “fewer than six”, the numerical phrase right away. Choice (C) buries the numerical phrase “fewer than six” close to the end of the clause.
Split #3: concision. Choice (E) is sleek and elegant. By contrast, choice (C) distended, bloated monstrosity, way too awkward and indirect to be correct.
For all these reasons, the only possible answer is (E).
4) Split #1: the word “prohibit” is already a negative. Any answer with “no” would be an incorrect double-negative. Choices (A) & (C) are incorrect.
Split #2: as discussed in this post, we want a construction that means none of item #1, none of item #2, and none of item #3. For the construction, we need the word “or.” Choices (A) & (B) are incorrect.
Split #3: Concision. Choice (E) is an wordy monstrosity that should be taken out back and shot. The hypothetical “would be an illegal drug” is totally inappropriate to the context. It’s not that heroin or cocaine “would be” illegal — they are illegal!! Choice (E) is far too wordy as well as illogical, so it is incorrect.
For all these reasons, the only possible answer is (D).
5) Split #1: idioms. The correct idiom is “result in“, not “result with“. Choices (D) & (E) are incorrect.
Split #2: We can count teachers (“how many teachers?”), so we need “fewer” with the percent of teachers. Classroom contact-time is uncountable (“how much classroom contact-time?”), so we need “less” with this percent. Only choice (A) has both of these correct.
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