Some people were punished for less.

Less sounds like a noun here.

Now I wonder, can it be substituted with "the lesser", as "the lesser" is also a noun. "The lesser of two evils".

If it can, what would be the difference?

If it can't, what's the reason for that?

2 Answers 2


This is an interesting question! Yes, some dictionaries define less as a noun, and it can be used somewhat like one, as in "People have been convicted for less", but it also is not exactly like a noun, because you can't refer to "a less" or "the less". I would really consider it an adjective, because "People have been convicted for less" functions like an abbreviated version of "People have been convicted for less serious acts."

You cannot use the lesser in this sentence, though, because the lesser is explicitly the most minor of the (usually two) things being compared, and there is nothing here being compared. You would use it like "Of the two charges brought against him, he was convicted only of the lesser".

  • Yes, for less is an idiomatic usage.
    – Lambie
    Dec 23, 2022 at 18:06
  • I also thought that "the lesser" is used or should be used with two objects only. But when I did research on it in google I found out that it is used with three and four objects. Or do you think it's not right to use it with anything but two objects?
    – user1425
    Dec 24, 2022 at 8:47
  • @user1425 I agree that "the lesser" only sounds correct with two objects, but some sources I have found seem to say it can be used with more than two objects. Personally, I would only use it with two.
    – stangdon
    Dec 24, 2022 at 13:47

No, "lesser" can not be substituted for "less" in your example sentence, because they have different meanings. "Less" normally means a smaller amount. According to M-W, "lesser" means:

of less size, quality, degree, or significance : of lower status

For example, it is common to choose the "lesser" of two evils, but it would be quite unusual to choose the "less" of two evils. (It is possible to say that, but the meaning would be a bit different.)

This might seem confusing, and in practice, it may not always be easy to distinguish between "lesser" and "less". Nevertheless, they are not exact synonyms. If it helps, you can think of "lesser" as the opposite of "greater" and "less" as the opposite of "more".

  • Thank you, but I still don't understand why it's wrong. wordreference.com/definition/less you will see examples of LESS being a noun. "He was given the lesser amount of the three" - correct. It's not about a status in this example.
    – user1425
    Dec 23, 2022 at 9:06
  • @user1425 I didn't mean that it was impossible to consider "less" as a noun. On second thought, I think that you're example is a situation in which construing it as a noun makes sense, so I've edited my answer. Dec 23, 2022 at 17:34

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