The decision to leave the 47-nation body was more definitive than the lesser option of staying on as a nonvoting observer. It represents another retreat by the Trump administration from international groups and agreements whose policies it deems out of sync with American interests on trade, defense, climate change and, now, human rights. And it leaves the council without the United States playing a key role in promoting human rights around the world.Washington Post

Could you please help me with the meaning of "the lesser option"?

I guess it might mean that the option of staying is lessdefinitive than the decition to leave. Is it correct?

If not, when I looked for lesser in Longman, it says

not as large, as important, or as much as something elseLongman

Then, does the lesser option means the less important option?

Thank you in advance.

1 Answer 1


The passage you quote is using the word to mean lower in rank or quality. I think the an appropriate word to replace lesser with would be weaker option. Weaker or lesser in the sense that the option they chose is more definitive (the word the writer uses) or bolder.

I guess it might mean that the option of staying is less definitive than the decision to leave.

This is mostly correct. The writer is presenting the option of staying as a nonvoting observer as a third option that is less definitive than leaving the group. The writer implies there were three options:

  • stay
  • change to be a nonvoting observer
  • leaving

Oxford Dictionaries define lessor as

  1. Not so great or important as the other or the rest.

    synonyms: less important, minor, secondary, subsidiary, marginal, ancillary, auxiliary, supplementary, supplemental, peripheral; inferior, slighter, insignificant, unimportant, petty; lower, lower-level, lower-grade, second-rate

    1.1 Lower in rank or quality.

    synonyms: subordinate, minor, inferior, second-class, subservient, lowly, humble, servile, menial, mean

  • Thank you. Then the writer is thinking that the decision to leave the body is good? Commented Jun 20, 2018 at 9:00
  • Now, after reading the whole article, I'm going to change my answer. I think the writer meant to say that "staying on as a nonvoting observer" was an alternative to what they decided to do, and that alternative would've been a weaker action.
    – mattliu
    Commented Jun 20, 2018 at 9:12
  • I would say that the author is not making a value judgement (giving approval or saying what's good and what's bad), but rather saying leaving the group is the bolder option, and the administration had a less bold option of becoming a nonvoting observer, which they did not follow.
    – mattliu
    Commented Jun 20, 2018 at 9:27
  • Thank you so much. Then "lesser" can be used like less an adjective (like in this case, less definitive) as well as the meaning of lower in rank or quality? Sorry, I cannot explain what I am thinking of well. Commented Jun 21, 2018 at 1:36
  • It looks like that's how it's being used in context. To me, "lesser option" is more typically a collocation that just means "inferior option".
    – mattliu
    Commented Jun 22, 2018 at 4:54

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