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Your English: Word grammar: less

Type: Article

This week's Word grammar byte is nothing less than fabulous!

According to a leading British news website, “Less and less people are dying of malaria around the world”. Purists would argue that less has been used incorrectly here, as less is used for referring to an amount that is smaller than another amount and is thus used with uncountable nouns, e.g. less government control or less fuel. As the word people is countable (and plural to boot), the above quotation should read ‘Fewer and fewer people ….’ Unfortunately (in the eyes of some people), this distinction is rapidly becoming blurred and fewer is much less widely used than less

Apart from its use to indicate a smaller amount and its use in comparisons, less can also be used to mean minus, as in ‘We made £2,000 profit on the deal, less tax’. It can also be used to indicate that something is not as much like one thing as another. For example, 'His statement was less an apology than a confession' or 'The problem may be less a social issue than a legal one'.

The expression no less can be used to emphasize that the person or thing you are talking about is very important or impressive, as in 'She received a visit from the Queen, no less' or ‘He’s just bought a brand new Ferrari, no less’.

Finally, less than can be combined with certain adjectives to create a slightly euphemistic and less direct effect, for example: ‘The director admits he was less than enthusiastic about the new school uniforms’, ‘It was obviously a less than perfect marriage’ and ‘The President has been shown to be less than honest’.

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