“Fewer”, not “less”

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There’s a bit of bad grammar in Patentcenter.   If you are using Patentcenter to look at a patent application, the number of inventors might exceed four.  In that case you might click “show all inventors” to see all of the inventors.  Then you would see a Patentcenter screen listing all of the inventors, an example of which appears at right. 

You might then want to return to the normal screen that does not show all of the inventors.  For this, the designers of Patentcenter chose the words “Show less inventors” which is wrong.  A similar mistake is often made in stores where an overhead sign might say that the express checkout lane is for those with “ten or less items”.  The correct wording would be “ten or fewer items”.  You can see explanations of this here and here.

The correct way to say this in Patentcenter would, of course, be “Show fewer inventors”.

It will be interesting to see how long it takes the folks at USPTO to correct this mistake.  (This is trouble ticket number CP10.)

2 thoughts on ““Fewer”, not “less”

  1. They won’t correct it because they do not see this as a mistake. Language is the way words are used. When a “mistake” is made by a large minority of the people, it is no longer a mistake, it is an alternative usage. Language purists may fight for a while but as it happens, most of the time they are destined to lose.

  2. I perused your post and agree with you, Carl. And I respectfully disagree with Denes – unlike a word such as peruse, the misuse of which has irretrievably ruined its meaning, there is still value to the fewer/less dichotomy for careful writers.

    It seems likely the USPTO language derived from the common and usually correct deployment of “Show more” and “Show less” UI elements. There, the unspoken object is something like “information,” which is not a countable noun, like inventors.

    One alternative fix could be to change the language to “Show less…”.

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