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Idioms about less

    less than, by far short of being; not in the least; hardly at all: The job is less than perfect.

Origin of less

First recorded before 900; Middle English; Old English lǣs (adverb), lǣssa (adjective); cognate with Old Frisian lês (adverb), lêssa (adjective); see least

synonym study for less

4. See small.

words often confused with less

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.


fewer, less (see confusables note at the current entry)

Other definitions for less (2 of 2)


an adjective suffix meaning “without” (childless; peerless), and in adjectives derived from verbs, indicating failure or inability to perform or be performed (resistless; tireless).

Origin of -less

Middle English -les,Old English -lēas, special use of lēas free from, without, false; cognate with Old Norse lauss,German los,loose
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What is a basic definition of less?

Less refers to a comparatively smaller amount, quantity, or degree and can be used in this sense as an adverb, adjective, or noun. Less has several other senses as an adverb, adjective, noun, and a preposition.

Less is a comparative form of the word little, with the word least being the superlative. If something is described as less, it is “more little” than something else. Specifically, less by itself often means a smaller number or amount rather than physical size.

Less can be used in this sense as an adverb, adjective, or a noun. Because less is a comparative, it must be used to compare two or more things to make sense. For example, “This house is less” makes no sense by itself. You might wonder. “Less what?” When we include the item we are comparing the house to, you can understand what we mean: That house is really expensive, but this house costs less. 

  • Real-life examples: Used cars often cost less than new ones. You will earn less money in your first job than in your last job. You might start out with a lot of questions, but as you learn you may have less.
  • Used in a sentence: I really need to start eating less.
    We want to make sure nobody gets less food than anyone else.

    When it comes to using pink paint, less is more. 

The word less is often confused with the word fewer. For the most part, you can use the words less and fewer as synonyms when comparing amounts of things.

However, less can compare abstract, uncountable qualities, while fewer cannot. For example, one dog can be said to be less playful than another, but it cannot be said to be “fewer playful” than another.

Where does less come from?

The first records of less come from before 900. It ultimately comes from the Old English adverb lǣs and adjective lǣssa. It is related to the Old Frisian adverb lês and adjective lêssa.

Did you know ... ?

What are some other forms related to less?

  • lesser (adverb and adjective)

What are some synonyms for less?

What are some words that share a root or word element with less

What are some words that often get used in discussing less?

What are some words less may be commonly confused with?

How is less used in real life?

Less is an incredibly common word that is most often used to describe something having a smaller or lower degree, amount, or quantity.

Try using less!

True or False?

A chair that costs $30 is less expensive than one that costs $20.

How to use less in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for less (1 of 2)

/ (lɛs) /

subtracting; minusthree weeks less a day

Word Origin for less

Old English lǣssa (adj), lǣs (adv, n)

usage for less

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

British Dictionary definitions for less (2 of 2)


suffix forming adjectives
without; lackingspeechless
not able to (do something) or not able to be (done, performed, etc)countless

Word Origin for -less

Old English -lās, from lēas lacking
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

Other Idioms and Phrases with less


The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.