View synonyms for less



[ les ]


  1. to a smaller extent, amount, or degree:

    less exact.

  2. most certainly not (often preceded by much or still ):

    He could barely pay for his own lodging, much less for that of his friend.

  3. in any way different; other:

    He is nothing less than a thief.


  1. smaller in size, amount, degree, etc.; not so large, great, or much:

    less money; less speed.

  2. lower in consideration, rank, or importance:

    no less a person than the manager.

  3. less than a dozen.


  1. a smaller amount or quantity:

    Hundreds of soldiers arrived, but less of them remained.

  2. something inferior or not as important:

    He was tortured for less.


  1. a year less two days; six dollars less tax.


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



suffix forming adjectives

  1. without; lacking


  2. not able to (do something) or not able to be (done, performed, etc)




/ lɛs /


    1. the comparative of little

      less spirit than before

      less sugar

    2. ( as pronoun; functioning as sing or plural )

      she has less than she needs

      the less you eat, the less you want

  1. usually preceded by no lower in rank or importance

    St James the Less

    no less a man than the president

  2. no less informal.
    used to indicate surprise or admiration, often sarcastic, at the preceding statement

    she says she's been to Italy, no less

  3. less of
    to a smaller extent or degree

    we see less of John these days

    less of a success than I'd hoped


  1. the comparative of little (sense 1)

    less beautiful

    she walks less than she should

    less quickly

  2. much less or still less
    used to reinforce a negative

    we don't like it, still less enjoy it

  3. think less of
    to have a lower opinion of


  1. subtracting; minus

    three weeks less a day

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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

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Confusables 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.

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Word History and Origins

Origin of less1

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

Origin of less2

Middle English -les, Old English -lēas, special use of lēas free from, without, false; cognate with Old Norse lauss, German los, loose

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Word History and Origins

Origin of less1

Old English -lās, from lēas lacking

Origin of less2

Old English lǣssa (adj), lǣs (adv, n)

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Idioms and Phrases

  1. less than, by far short of being; not in the least; hardly at all:

    The job is less than perfect.

More idioms and phrases containing less

In addition to the idiom beginning with less , also see couldn't care less ; in (less than) no time ; more or less ; much less .

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Synonym Study

See small.

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Example Sentences

Submission is less a novel of ideas than a political book, and of the most subversive kind.

Back in New York, the slow pace and inward focus of her yoga practice was less fulfilling.

For many years afterward it was a never-ending topic of conversation, and is more or less talked of even to this day.

No one wants to align with less freedom at a time like this.

The pulps brought new readers to serious fiction, making it less intimidating with alluring art and low prices.

In less than ten minutes, the bivouac was broken up, and our little army on the march.

He was too drowsy to hold the thought more than a moment in his mind, much less to reflect upon it.

He did believe you, more or less, and what you said fell in with his own impressions—strange impressions that they were, poor man!

One would not have wanted her white neck a mite less full or her beautiful arms more slender.

With childlike confidence he follows the advice of some more or less honest dealer.


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More About Less

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.

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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.

Definitions and idiom definitions from Unabridged, based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023

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