Idioms

    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 confusedfewer less (see usage note at the current entry)

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.

Definition for less (2 of 3)

little

[ lit-l ]
/ ˈlɪt l /

adjective, lit·tler or less or less·er, lit·tlest or least.


adverb, less, least.

noun

Origin of little

before 900; Middle English, Old English lȳtel (lȳt few, small + -el diminutive suffix), cognate with Dutch luttel, Old High German luzzil, Old Norse lītill
SYNONYMS FOR little
1–4 tiny, teeny, wee. Little, diminutive, minute, small refer to that which is not large or significant. Little (the opposite of big ) is very general, covering size, extent, number, quantity, amount, duration, or degree: a little boy; a little time. Small (the opposite of large and of great ) can many times be used interchangeably with little, but is especially applied to what is limited or below the average in size: small oranges. Diminutive denotes (usually physical) size that is much less than the average or ordinary; it may suggest delicacy: the baby's diminutive fingers; diminutive in size but autocratic in manner. Minute suggests that which is so tiny it is difficult to discern, or that which implies attentiveness to the smallest details: a minute quantity; a minute exam.
Related formslit·tlish [lit-l-ish, lit-lish] /ˈlɪt l ɪʃ, ˈlɪt lɪʃ/, adjectivelit·tle·ness, noun

Definition for less (3 of 3)

-less

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. 2019

Examples from the Web for less

British Dictionary definitions for less (1 of 3)

less

/ (lɛs) /

determiner


adverb

preposition

subtracting; minusthree weeks less a day

Word Origin for less

Old English lǣssa (adj), lǣs (adv, n)

usage

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 3)

-less

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

British Dictionary definitions for less (3 of 3)

little

/ (ˈlɪtəl) /

determiner


adjective

adverb

Word Origin for little

Old English lӯtel; related to lӯr few, Old High German luzzil
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

Idioms and Phrases with less (1 of 2)

less

In addition to the idiom beginning with less

  • less than

also see:

  • couldn't care less
  • in (less than) no time
  • more or less
  • much less

Idioms and Phrases with less (2 of 2)

little

In addition to the idioms beginning with little

  • little bird told one, a
  • little by little
  • little frog in a big pond
  • little knowledge is a dangerous thing, a
  • little pitchers have big ears

also see:

  • a little
  • every little bit helps
  • in one's own (little) world
  • make little of
  • precious few (little)
  • think little of
  • to little purpose
  • too little, too late

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