adverb a compar. of little with least as superl.
to a smaller extent, amount, or degree: less exact.
most certainly not (often preceded by much or still ): He could barely pay for his own lodging, much less for that of his friend.
in any way different; other: He is nothing less than a thief.
adjective a compar. of little with least as superl.
smaller in size, amount, degree, etc.; not so large, great, or much: less money; less speed.
lower in consideration, rank, or importance: no less a person than the manager.
fewer: less than a dozen.
a smaller amount or quantity: Hundreds of soldiers arrived, but less of them remained.
something inferior or not as important: He was tortured for less.
minus; without: a year less two days; six dollars less tax.
less than, by far short of being; not in the least; hardly at all: The job is less than perfect.

before 900; Middle English; Old English lǣs (adv.), lǣssa (adj.); cognate with Old Frisian lês (adv.), lêssa (adj.). See least

fewer, less (see usage note at the current entry).

4. See small.

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.
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an adjective suffix meaning “without” (childless; peerless ), and in adjectives derived from verbs, indicating failure or inability to perform or be performed (resistless; tireless ).

Middle English -les, Old English -lēas, special use of lēas free from, without, false; cognate with Old Norse lauss, German los, loose


adjective, littler or less or lesser, littlest or least.
small in size; not big; not large; tiny: a little desk in the corner of the room.
short in duration; not extensive; short; brief: a little while.
small in number: a little group of scientists.
small in amount or degree; not much: little hope.
of a certain amount; appreciable (usually preceded by a ): We're having a little difficulty.
being such on a small scale: little farmers.
younger or youngest: He's my little brother.
not strong, forceful, or loud; weak: a little voice.
small in consideration, importance, position, affluence, etc.: little discomforts; tax reductions to help the little fellow.
mean, narrow, or illiberal: a little mind.
endearingly small or considered as such: Bless your little heart!
amusingly small or so considered: a funny little way of laughing.
contemptibly small, petty, mean, etc., or so considered: filthy little political tricks.
adverb, less, least.
not at all (used before a verb): He little knows what awaits him.
in only a small amount or degree; not much; slightly: a little-known work of art; little better than a previous effort.
seldom; rarely; infrequently: We see each other very little.
a small amount, quantity, or degree: They did little to make him comfortable. If you want some ice cream, there's a little in the refrigerator.
a short distance: It's down the road a little.
a short time: Stay here for a little.
in little, on a small scale; in miniature: a replica in little of Independence Hall.
little by little, by small degrees; gradually: The water level rose little by little.
make little of,
belittle: to make little of one's troubles.
to understand or interpret only slightly: Scholars made little of the newly discovered text.
not a little, to a great extent; very much; considerably: It tired me not a little to stand for three hours.
think little of, to treat casually; regard as trivial: They think little of driving 50 miles to see a movie.

before 900; Middle English, Old English lȳtel (lȳt few, small + -el diminutive suffix), cognate with Dutch luttel, Old High German luzzil, Old Norse lītill

littlish [lit-l-ish, lit-lish] , adjective
littleness, noun

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.
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Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014.
Cite This Source Link To less
World English Dictionary
less (lɛs)
1.  a.  the comparative of little : less sugar; less spirit than before
 b.  (as pronoun; functioning as sing or plural): she has less than she needs; the less you eat, the less you want
2.  (usually preceded by no) lower in rank or importance: no less a man than the president; St James the Less
3.  informal no less used to indicate surprise or admiration, often sarcastic, at the preceding statement: she says she's been to Italy, no less
4.  less of to a smaller extent or degree: we see less of John these days; less of a success than I'd hoped
5.  the comparative of little (sense 1): she walks less than she should; less quickly; less beautiful
6.  much less, still less used to reinforce a negative: we don't like it, still less enjoy it
7.  think less of to have a lower opinion of
8.  subtracting; minus: three weeks less a day
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

suffix forming adjectives
1.  without; lacking: speechless
2.  not able to (do something) or not able to be (done, performed, etc): countless
[Old English -lās, from lēas lacking]

little (ˈlɪtəl)
1.  (often preceded by a)
 a.  a small quantity, extent, or duration of: the little hope there is left; very little milk
 b.  (as pronoun): save a little for me
2.  not much: little damage was done
3.  make little of See make of
4.  not a little
 a.  very
 b.  a lot
5.  quite a little a considerable amount
6.  think little of to have a low opinion of
7.  of small or less than average size
8.  young: a little boy; our little ones
9.  endearingly familiar; dear: my husband's little ways
10.  contemptible, mean, or disagreeable: your filthy little mind
11.  (of a region or district) resembling another country or town in miniature: little Venice
12.  little game a person's secret intention or business: so that's his little game!
13.  no little considerable
14.  (usually preceded by a) in a small amount; to a small extent or degree; not a lot: to laugh a little
15.  (used preceding a verb) not at all, or hardly: he little realized his fate
16.  not much or often: we go there very little now
17.  little by little by small degrees
[Old English lӯtel; related to lӯr few, Old High German luzzil]

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
2009 © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009
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Word Origin & History

O.E. læs (adv.), læssa (adj.), comp. of læs "small;" from P.Gmc. *laisiz "smaller," from PIE base *loiso- "small" (cf. Lith. liesas "thin"). Formerly also "younger," as a translation of L. minor, a sense now obsolete except in James the Less. Used as a comparative of
little, but not related to it. Lesser (mid-15c.) is a double comparative, "a barbarous corruption of less, formed by the vulgar from the habit of terminating comparatives in -er." [Johnson].

the suffix meaning "lacking" is from O.E. -leas, from leas "free (from), devoid (of), false, feigned," from P.Gmc. *lausaz (cf. Du. -loos, Ger. -los "less," O.N. lauss "loose, free, vacant, dissolute," M.Du. los, Ger. los "loose, free," Goth. laus "empty, vain"). Related to loose and lease.

O.E. lytel (related to lyt "little, few," from P.Gmc. *luti), from W.Gmc. *lutila- (cf. Du. luttel, O.H.G. luzzil, Ger. lützel, Goth. leitils), from PIE *leud- "small." "Often synonymous with small, but capable of emotional implications which small is not" [OED]. Phrase the little woman "wife" attested
from 1795. Little people "the faeries" is from 1726; as "children," it is attested from 1752; as "ordinary people" it is attested from 1827. Little Neck clams (1884) are so called for Little Neck, Long Island, a "neck" of land on the island's North Shore. Little by little is from late 15c. (litylle be litille).
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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American Heritage
Idioms & Phrases


In addition to the idiom beginning with less, also see couldn't care less; in (less than) no time; more or less; much less.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer.
Copyright © 1997. Published by Houghton Mifflin.
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Example sentences
As and when the market for structured finance revives, it will be smaller and
  less rewarding than before.
Conversely, words that are smaller appear less frequently.
Psychiatrists are talking less and prescribing more.
In fact, cost-conscious consumers may start buying more fancy food than before,
  to make up for going out to restaurants less.
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