from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.

  • adjective Not as great in amount or quantity.
  • adjective Lower in importance, esteem, or rank.
  • adjective Consisting of a smaller number.
  • preposition With the deduction of; minus.
  • adverb To a smaller extent, degree, or frequency.
  • noun A smaller amount.
  • noun Something not as important as something else.
  • idiom (less than) Not at all.
  • idiom (much/still) Certainly not.

from The Century Dictionary.

  • Not so much or so large; of smaller quantity, amount, bulk, or capacity; inferior in dimensions, extent, or duration: as, less honor or reward; less profit or possessions; less time; less distance; less scope or range; the reward is less than he deserves; a man of less courage or ability; an article of less, weight or value.
  • Not so great, considerable, or important; of smaller scope or consequence; lower in the scale: as, St. James the Less; his honors are less than his deserts.
  • Synonyms Smaller, Less, Fewer. Smaller is rather more exact than less, but is used freely of persons and of things both concrete and abstract: as, a smaller man, soul, size. Less is not used of persons: as, less trouble, happiness, size, degree; less of an evil. With reference to size and number, the proper words are smaller and fewer. “This apple is less than that,” “There were less people there than I expected,” are inelegant and erroneous, although similar expressions are often used both in speech and in writing. While the latter, however, is in excusable, the former may be used sparingly without offense in certain collocations, especially in poetry. The allusion to the mustard-seed in Mark iv. 31 appears to be the only example in the Bible of the use of less in the sense of ‘smaller in size.’ In Shakspere's plays the word occurs more than two hundred times, and in Milton's poems more than a hundred; in the former it is used only four or five times and in the latter three times in the sense of ‘smaller in size,’ and never in that of ‘fewer.’
  • To make less; lessen.
  • To become less; lessen.
  • Unless.
  • A common English suffix forming, from nouns, adjectives meaning ‘without’ (lacking, wanting, void of, destitute of) the thing or quality denoted by the noun: as. childless, without a child; fatherless, without a father; endless, without end; hopeless, without hope; leafless, without leaves; shameless, without shame; so motherless, penniless, faithless, godless, graceless, lawless, witless, remediless, tasteless, etc.
  • In a smaller or lower degree; to an inferior extent, amount, etc.; in a decreased or abated way or manner: as, less prudent; less carefully executed; to exaggerate less; to think less of a person.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English.

  • adverb Not so much; in a smaller or lower degree
  • conjunction obsolete Unless.
  • noun A smaller portion or quantity.
  • noun The inferior, younger, or smaller.
  • transitive verb obsolete To make less; to lessen.
  • adjective Smaller; not so large or great; not so much; shorter; inferior

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.

  • adverb To smaller extent
  • adverb In lower degree
  • preposition Minus; not including
  • verb obsolete To make less; to lessen.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • adjective (nonstandard in some uses but often idiomatic with measure phrases) fewer
  • adverb comparative of little
  • adjective (comparative of `little' usually used with mass nouns) a quantifier meaning not as great in amount or degree
  • adverb used to form the comparative of some adjectives and adverbs
  • adjective (usually preceded by `no') lower in quality


from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

[Middle English lesse, from Old English lǣssa (adj.) and lǣs (adv.); see leis- in Indo-European roots.]

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

Old English læs


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  • +Positive Degree+; that which expresses the quality in a greater or a less degree, as _sweeter_, _less sweet_, is of the +Comparative Degree+; and that which expresses the quality in the greatest or the least degree, as

    Higher Lessons in English A work on english grammar and composition Brainerd Kellogg

  • _The more ... the more_, _the less ... the less_, are translated by means of the particles _ju_ and _des_.

    Esperanto Self-Taught with Phonetic Pronunciation William W. Mann

  • Hatred, which an immoderate Zeal swells some bigotted Sectaries with, nor the unlucky Spoils of these poor People, render criminal or miserable the _most faithful_ of your Subjects; to whom their lawful King, as you are, is not _the less dear_, nor _less respected_, because of a _different Belief_ from _theirs_.

    An Essay on the Antient and Modern State of Ireland Henry Brooke

  • "I do not doubt that, at least so far as _I_ am concerned, I have been friends with more -- with less -- I mean with more -- no, with _less_ intereresting people."

    Honor Edgeworth Ottawa's Present Tense [pseud.] Vera

  • If one man less admirable than another; if his friends and his entertainments are inclined to become rowdy and discreditable, does he need help _less_, or more?

    A College Girl George de Horne Vaizey 1887

  • The claims of evil become both less and more in Christian Science, than in human philosophies or creeds: _more_, because the evil that is hidden by dogma and human reason is uncovered by Science; and _less_, because evil, being thus uncovered, is found out, and exposure is nine points of destruction.

    No and Yes Mary Baker Eddy 1865

  • There had certainly been so many important changes in myself during the same period, that it becomes me to speak with hesitation on this point: but even the common class seemed less peculiar, less English, _less provincial_, if one might use such an expression, as applied to so great a nation; in short, more like the rest of the world than formerly.

    Recollections of Europe James Fenimore Cooper 1820

  • And to this I must negatively answer, _Not to be less religious, that we may differ the less_.

    The Life and Most Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, of York, Mariner (1801) Daniel Defoe 1696

  • And the problem she faces is  to find a less physically compromising way, "- now listen to this -" a less  physically compromising way to express her blocked needs. "

    TEDBUNDY Michaud, S G & Aynesworth H 1989

  • "Certainly not," assented Bates kindly, linking his arm in mine as he spoke; "certainly not; you would be something more or less -- _less_, I should be inclined to say -- than human if you could.

    The Pirate Slaver A Story of the West African Coast Harry Collingwood 1886


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