Grammar Woman Watching (the Debate)
Less Bayonets and Horses?
Fact Check: Wrong!
A Conscious Choice of the Correct Word
Does the United States Navy have more ships than it did in 1917 or less ships? Does the United States military have more bayonets and horses or less bayonets and horses? If you win the Battleship game, is it because you have more ships or less ships?
Board games (and debates) aside, Grammar Woman’s fact check rates you wrong, wrong, and wrong if you answer less ships, less horses, and less bayonets. (You're also wrong if you ask the question using the word less.)
Grammar Woman, however, gives President Obama an A+ for his debate comment. He is correct: We do, indeed, have fewer bayonets and horses. It’s an important distinction to note: Few is used when counting, for example, the U.S. Navy could give us an accurate count of how many ships we had in 1917 and how many we have today, and advise whether we have more or fewer. To measure things in other ways, use less. The United States Navy was less powerful in 1917 than it is today, even though we had more, not fewer, ships.
Continuing the distinction, which is important in any fact-checking exercise, the United States Military indeed does have fewer “bayonets and horses,” and rather than being less powerful, our military is the strongest in the world. Few international leaders would dare to say any differently.
Debate or not, incorrect grammar or slang, horses or bayonets, I imagine most folks more or less (not few) have decided for whom they will vote this year. And on Election Day, Tuesday, November 6, at the end of the day, the loser of the presidential contest will not have less votes; he will have fewer votes.