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[les] /lɛs/
adverb, a compar. of little with least as superl.
to a smaller extent, amount, or degree:
less exact.
most certainly not (often preceded by much or still):
He could barely pay for his own lodging, much less for that of his friend.
in any way different; other:
He is nothing less than a thief.
adjective, a compar. of little with least as superl.
smaller in size, amount, degree, etc.; not so large, great, or much:
less money; less speed.
lower in consideration, rank, or importance:
no less a person than the manager.
less than a dozen.
a smaller amount or quantity:
Hundreds of soldiers arrived, but less of them remained.
something inferior or not as important:
He was tortured for less.
minus; without:
a year less two days; six dollars less tax.
less than, by far short of being; not in the least; hardly at all:
The job is less than perfect.
Origin of less
before 900; Middle English; Old English lǣs (adv.), lǣssa (adj.); cognate with Old Frisian lês (adv.), lêssa (adj.). See least
Can be confused
fewer, less (see usage note at the current entry)
4. See small.
Usage note
Even though less has been used before plural nouns (less words; less men) since the time of King Alfred, many modern usage guides say that only fewer can be used in such contexts. Less, they say, should modify singular mass nouns (less sugar; less money) and singular abstract nouns (less honesty; less love). It should modify plural nouns only when they suggest combination into a unit, group, or aggregation: less than $50 (a sum of money); less than three miles (a unit of distance). With plural nouns specifying individuals or readily distinguishable units, the guides say that fewer is the only proper choice: fewer words; fewer men; no fewer than 31 of the 50 states.
Modern standard English practice does not reflect this distinction. When followed by than, less occurs at least as often as fewer in modifying plural nouns that are not units or groups, and the use of less in this construction is increasing in all varieties of English: less than eight million people; no less than 31 of the 50 states. When not followed by than, fewer is more frequent only in formal written English, and in this construction also the use of less is increasing: This year we have had less crimes, less accidents, and less fires than in any of the last five years. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2017.
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Examples from the Web for much less
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • He found them much less exhilarating then he had imagined they would be.

    The Foolish Lovers St. John G. Ervine
  • Rima, I can never hope to understand your sweet speech, much less to speak it.

    Green Mansions W. H. Hudson
  • Winnie maintained that he was much less “absent-minded” now.

    The Secret Agent Joseph Conrad
  • I doubt if she had ever heard of Herbert Spencer, much less read his works.

    The Hunted Outlaw Anonymous
  • He could not even guess at his assailant, much less reach him.

    Good Indian B. M. Bower
British Dictionary definitions for much less


  1. the comparative of little (sense 1) less sugar, less spirit than before
  2. (as pronoun; functioning as sing or plural): she has less than she needs, the less you eat, the less you want
(usually preceded by no) lower in rank or importance: no less a man than the president, St James the Less
(informal) no less, used to indicate surprise or admiration, often sarcastic, at the preceding statement: she says she's been to Italy, no less
less of, to a smaller extent or degree: we see less of John these days, less of a success than I'd hoped
the comparative of little (sense 1): she walks less than she should, less quickly, less beautiful
much less, still less, used to reinforce a negative: we don't like it, still less enjoy it
think less of, to have a lower opinion of
subtracting; minus: three weeks less a day
Usage note
Less should not be confused with fewer. Less refers strictly only to quantity and not to number: there is less water than before. Fewer means smaller in number: there are fewer people than before
Word Origin
Old English lǣssa (adj), lǣs (adv, n)
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for much less


Old English læs (adv.), læssa (adj.), comparative of læs "small;" from Proto-Germanic *lais-izo "smaller" (cf. Old Saxon, Old Frisian les "less;" Middle Dutch lise "soft, gentle," German leise "soft"), from PIE root *leis- "small" (cf. Lithuanian liesas "thin"). Formerly also "younger," as a translation of Latin minor, a sense now obsolete except in James the Less. Used as a comparative of little, but not related to it. The noun is Old English læsse.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Idioms and Phrases with much less

much less

And certainly not, as in He rarely talks about his outside activities, much less his family. The earliest record of this idiom is in John Milton's Paradise Lost (1671): “The world thou hast not seen, much less her glory.”


In addition to the idiom beginning with
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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