More or Less

Who would imagine a little word like less could be less than simple to use correctly?

As an adjective, less can be used before a singular noun only:

  • I would like less cream in my coffee.

But lesser (not as great in quantity, size, or value) is used before a plural noun:

  • Lesser men have attempted that climb.

You can be given “a lesser” job (which does not mean “smaller”), but you can’t use the article a with less.

  • He was given less responsibility.

However, if less is used as an adverb, you can use a:

  • She has a less prominent position than before.

Lesser is sometimes used in stock expressions:

  • My decision was the lesser of two evils.

Since less is related to little, it should not be used to mean “more small.” Since we say “a small loss” and not “a little loss,” we would say “a smaller loss” not “a less loss.”

However it’s correct to say “at small cost” or “at little cost.” Which means you can say “at less cost” (but not “a less cost”):

  • She helped that man at no small cost to herself.
  • He finished the project at less cost than the previous one.

Don’t confuse lesser with lessor, though. A lessor is someone who leases property (and if you rent, you are the lessee).

I’ll stop now since, as the saying goes, “less is more.”

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