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'Not a lot'

How much do you know about Comparatives and Superlatives in English? 'Not a lot', as some people say?

We hope that's not the case. Try these!

  1. Choose the answer that completes the sentence in the best and most accurate English.
    This checkout is reserved for customers with ten items or ... ...
    The items are countable, so 'less' (while broadly clear for meaning) would be sloppy / inaccurate English.
    Certain shops and supermarkets may display signs with the wrong wording, but that doesn't make it ~ or them ~ right!
    As and when you ever see 'wrong' signage in English, do ask any sensible English-speaking friend and check whether the mistake is in the sign itself, or whether you've misunderstood something. Sometimes you may be 'at fault' yourself (but hopefully, will learn from it); sometimes you may be able to pride yourself quietly on knowing your English better than a native writer!
  2. Choose the answer that completes the sentence in the best and most accurate English.
    The number of these birds observed from year to year has, sadly, continued to grow ...
    Birds (or sightings of them) have grown 'fewer' (Answer 2); but the number has grown less.
    It always feels odd to come across such a phrase as 'growing smaller' or a sound 'growing softer', or a vehicle or process 'slowing down quickly' (or indeed 'speeding up slowly'), but sometimes these do make remarkably clear sense. Perhaps you have similar clashes of meaning when you express such concepts within your own language.
  3. Choose the answer that completes the sentence in the best and most accurate English.
    The referee had to send off no ... ... than five players.
    There were at least that many, and they were countable!
  4. Choose the answer that completes the sentence in the best and most accurate English.
    The ... ... expensive option may not always be the wisest in the long-term.
    This means that there may be no correlation between the extremes ('cheapest = best').
  5. Choose the answer that completes the sentence in the best and most accurate English.
    To be honest, that was the ... ... of her troubles.
    ... i.e. she had many problems, and the one we're currently considering was the one that was least important, or most minor.
    'Best' (Answer 1) really wouldn't make much sense here!
  6. Choose the answer that completes the sentence in the best and most accurate English.
    The player with the ... ... number of penalties will lose the ... ... points.
    The 'number' is itself uncountable (!) so the correct phrase is 'the least number'; but the points, obviously, are countable so they will be 'fewest'.
    All the other Answers are either illogical or grammatically wrong, on indeed both.
  7. Choose the answer that completes the sentence in the best and most accurate English.
    The most successful hotel is the one with the ... ... vacancies.
    Answer 2 is correct since we want the smallest quantity of countable things (in this case, vacancies : i.e. empty rooms, for which the hotel is paid no money).
  8. Choose the answer that completes the sentence in the best and most accurate English.
    'Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and ~
    I took the road ... ... traveled by,
    And that has made all the difference.'
    (Robert Frost)
    In this case, the adverb 'less' is modifying the participal adjective 'traveled'; it doesn't mean that 'less people traveled by it' ~ although it amounts to much the same thing, that would be inaccurate English (it should be 'the road fewer [people] traveled by'!)
  9. Choose the answer that completes the sentence in the best and most accurate English.
    ... ... than one in a hundred workers at this factory earns ... ... than £9 per hour.
    The workers are countable; we suppose that '£9/hr' is also countable, but Answer 3 remains the most appropriate English version to express this idea.
  10. Choose the answer that completes the sentence in the best and most accurate English.
    'Least said, ... ... '
    (Traditional English proverb)
    Answers 1-3 each seem to rhyme, appealingly (especially No.3 with its suggestion that 'well-bred' / well-mannered people don't 'go on and on' talking about a problem) ... but in fact No.4 is the correct ending. It aims to suggest that the more quickly people stop discussing a problem, the sooner matters will be forgotten and revert to normal.

Author: Ian Miles

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