Exceptional Expressions For Everyday Events
The word less shares some traits with its counterpart, more. It, too, is a comparative word that functions as an adjective, an adverb, or a noun, but less refers to smaller rather than larger quantities: Unfortunately, this fall’s bake sale raised less money than last year’s. Rita was less happy with this week’s test score than last week’s. The less Teresa practiced her guitar, the worse she played. Furthermore, in its mathematical uses, less is even a preposition: One dollar less forty cents equals sixty cents. Five is less than ten.
Also like more, less is part of a set of comparison words: little, less, and least. David enjoyed eggplant a little, he enjoyed broccoli less, and he enjoyed brussel sprouts least of all. Less, too, is used with verbs, adjectives, and adverbs to express comparisons and degrees. Because he was busy, Michael listened less to music than he used to. Because this assignment was too easy for him, Ralph found it less interesting than the last one. Because he was distracted, Frank listened less attentively to his teacher than usual.
- What do you think the statement “Less is more” might mean?
- What does it mean to be less than perfect?
- How does “less hope” different from “hopeless”?
The Spanish Connection
Less comes from an Old English word that described anything that was small. It is not clear whether the older word was used in the context of comparisons, as less primarily is today. The Spanish word for less is menos. Less and menos are not cognates, but some of the synonyms for less do have Spanish cognates.
- Often we hear or see the word less used interchangeably with the word fewer. Even though this is a common practice, more formal usage often distinguishes between the two. This usage requires that fewer be used with nouns that can be counted (fewer calories, fewer dollars, fewer people) while less is used with nouns that are singular or more abstract (less fat, less money, less population).
- The suffix -less comes from an Old English word meaning “devoid of.” This meaning has been retained in the many words with this suffix, for instance: hopeless, tasteless, tireless, homeless, fearless, sugarless, and skinless. There is a distinct difference in affect between the use of less and the use of -less.