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A Quick Guide on “Less” vs. “Least”

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“Less” is the irregular comparative and “least” is the corresponding superlative. We’ll explain what makes them irregular and how to use these words correctly.

Should you use less or least? We'll go over this question below.
Is the correct word to use “less” or “least”? It depends on the context.
Quick Summary on the Difference Between “Less” and “Least”
  • Less is the comparative form of little and refers to “a smaller amount of.” Least is the superlative form of little and refers to “the smallest amount of.”
    • James had little energy left, and Erica had even less.
      Jordan, however, had the least amount of energy after the birthday party and went straight to sleep.

“Less” or “Least”

To understand when to use less or least, you must first know what comparatives and superlatives are. Comparatives and superlatives are used for comparisons of adjectives, and they help show comparisons between two or more nouns.

Take for example the word high. Its comparative form is higher, and its superlative is highest. Because high is a regular adjective, forming the comparative (+ “–er”) and the superlative (+ “–est”) is easy. However, some words are irregular, meaning the comparative and superlative don’t follow the usual pattern.

Little, and its comparative and superlative form—less and least—are the perfect examples. This blog post will explain what these words mean and when to use less or least.

When To Use “Less”

Less is the comparative of little and can function as a determiner, pronoun, adjective, or adverb. Regardless of its function in a sentence, less usually means “a smaller amount or degree of something” or “to a smaller extent.”

We had much less money compared to the beginning of our vacation.
I need to spend less time on social media and more time reading.
Finding sufficient funds for our endeavors is less of a problem than it used to be.

Although not as common, less can also function as a preposition and is synonymous with minus.

She collected her entire salary less the tax and insurance.

Here are a few common expressions that include the word less and what they mean:

1. Less and less: diminishing in amount or degree

She had less and less respect for the chairman of the committee.

2. More or less: almost or approximately

I made about $400 a night as a server, more or less.

3. Much less: introduces something that is less likely than something already mentioned

They weren’t going to give her a promotion, much less a raise.

When To Use “Least”

Least is the superlative of little and can also function as a determiner, pronoun, adjective, or adverb. Least refers to “the smallest amount, extent, degree, or significance.”

They exerted the least amount of effort possible.
Whether I won or not was the least of my worries.
The least you could do is call and ask if she’s okay.

A few expressions that contain the word least are:

1. At the very least: indicates that what was previously stated is the lowest possible

The project is going to take five years to complete, at the very least.

2. Not in the least: not at all

I’m not in the least worried about the debate.

3. To say the least: implies that the reality is more extreme

I was utterly shocked, to say the least

4.  Last but not least: last in order of mention but not of importance

And last but not least, I’d like to thank my sister.

Less and least are used for singular nouns, whereas fewer and fewest are used for plural nouns.

Worry Less with LanguageTool

Comparatives and superlatives can be challenging, especially when they’re irregular. When dealing with little and its comparative and superlative, all you have to remember is their order:

  • little → less → least

LanguageTool—a multilingual text editor—can also ensure your text is error-free by detecting incorrect use of comparatives and superlatives, like less and least, worse and worst, and many more.

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