28 May 2015

Copping flak for careless words

1:01 pm on 28 May 2015

Correspondents sometimes criticise broadcasters for using "less" when "fewer" is the appropriate word.

150714. Photo Diego Opatowski / RNZ. Generic radio studio. Microphone, Onair, console

Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

Rest assured, we do have rules about this. Fewer applies to numbers and less applies to amounts, or volume.

For example:

You say less when you are dealing with things that can be quantified, but not counted.

You say fewer if you are dealing in things that can be counted in numbers. If what you are referring to can be lined up and counted then say fewer.

The most common exception is when referring to time. It is correct to say "less than six weeks" because you are referring to quantity of time.

Another exception is when referring to numbers giving the size of a quantity, for example, "less than $100".

Unfortunately, in an unscripted, live talk situation, it is easy to get it wrong. And once said, although a broadcaster may immediately realise and regret it, the transgression has reached the ears of the listener and can not be withdrawn.


We all talk using colloquialisms. And that will be reflected in the conversations you hear on Radio New Zealand where there will be many colloquial words and phrases used.

However what you hear in our news bulletins will be different. The language used by the newsreader will be much more formal.

To give you an example: "The Reserve Bank has again not upped the cash rate." In the news, you can expect to hear: "The Reserve Bank has again not raised the cash rate."

While you might hear the following words and phrases in an interview or panel discussion, the newsreader will most likely use the second alternative:

There are of course, some "colloquialisms" you should never hear on our networks.

Words starting with 'coe'

The following is a group of words not pronounced as you might expect.

They all begin with the letters "coe", but are said as if they were spelt beginning with "see".

*Hewitt Humphrey is Radio New Zealand's Presentation Standards Manager. If there are any words you would like him to address in future please send your query to rnzwebsite@radionz.co.nz and put in the subject field: Attention, Hewitt Humphrey.

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