You are paying less attention to your studies than you used to do.

What is “less” in this sentence?

A. Noun
B. Verb
C. Adverb
D. Adjective

I was studying English mcqs at a particular website which says less indicate adjective in that context but as far as I know:

Adjective: it is a word which is the characteristics of noun.

Adverb: it is a word or phrase that modifies the meaning of an adjective, verb, or other adverb, expressing manner, place, time or degree

So my question is, in the example above does not the word less showing less intensity towards attention? It does not indicate any behaviour or characteristic of attention. So the answer should be ADVERB, shouldn't it?

  • No. "Less" can be a determinative, as in "It is of less value" and a degree adverb in "It is less expensive than I thought", but it is not an adjective, at least not in modern grammar. So in your example, "less" is an indefinite determinative that has to do with quantification like many other determinatives. Compare "less milk ~ two milk-shakes", where "less" is just as much a quantificational determinative as "two" is.
    – BillJ
    Nov 7 '18 at 18:05
  • The answer below is wrong. "Less" is never an adjective, since it does not restrict the denotation of the noun it precedes. Think about it -- does it provide any kind of description of the noun. Of course not -- it merely quantifies it and hence is a determinative, just like "two" is in "There are two eggs on the table". See the Oxford Dictionary of "less" in their example "...less time": link.
    – BillJ
    Nov 8 '18 at 9:14
  • @BillJ thank for you response and the efforts you made just to clear our concepts.Actually yes it's true "less" will be perceived as determinative whenever it will be used before any noun but on the other hand its also true if a word modify the meaning of a noun it is considered as adjective. So, in our particular scenario where a question was already given along with some options.There was not any option of determinative. We were only left with the options of adjective or adverb. So, clearly it does make any sense to be considered as adverb.
    – MJ Ghani
    Nov 8 '18 at 9:45
  • That's why i accepted that answer and yes i still agree with you its a determiner! The question is given on this site link
    – MJ Ghani
    Nov 8 '18 at 9:46
  • In your example, "less" belongs to the category determinative, and its function is that of determiner.
    – BillJ
    Nov 8 '18 at 10:05

Your definition of an adjective is somewhat misleading. The classic definition is that an adjective MODIFIES a noun. That may mean assigning a physical characteristic such as color to a noun, e.g. "the red ball," but adjectives are not limited to physical characteristics. "Modify" means almost anything that helps narrow the meaning of a noun. So in the context of your example, which is a comparison, "attention" could conceivably be more or less or the same as it was previously. The sentence would literally be meaningless if the range of meaning of the noun "attention" was not restricted to one of those three options. Because "less" in this example affects the range of meaning of a noun, it is being used as an adjective.

EDIT: "Less" is one of a small class of modifying words in English that do not morphologically indicate when they are being used as an adverb or an adjective by the presence or absence of the suffix "ly." So the word "less" may be used as an adverb: "She is less exuberant than she was in college." In that example, "less" is restricting the meaning of an adjective rather than a noun and so is classed as an adverb rather than a noun.

  • Agreed. 'Attention' is a noun and 'less' is an adjective modifying the noun. If the sentence had said, 'You are less attentive to your studies than you used to be', then 'attentive' would be an adjective and less would then be an 'adverb'.
    – James
    Nov 7 '18 at 14:25
  • Thank you very much #jeff now i have a clear picture about adjective and adverb. Actually the problem occur due to my lack of knowledge about nouns. I was considering attention as a verb and it turns out to be a noun. But your answer and last example by #james really helped to understand the concept!
    – MJ Ghani
    Nov 7 '18 at 15:19

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