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In Italian "piccolo" (small) has two comparative forms: "più piccolo" and "minore". While "più piccolo" can be used to refer either to physical size or age difference, "minore" generally refers to age difference or to an abstract quality, rather than physical size.

So, Italians can correctly say:

  1. Our room is "più piccola" than yours.

  2. The incident is of "minore" importance.

It is clear to me that in "1" case the correct English word to replace "più piccola" is "smaller", but I'm not sure whether in "2" case one should replace "minore" with "smaller" or with "lesser", or if both are correct.

Can anybody explain if there exist a parallelism between Italian and English in the sense above and if "smaller" and "lesser" are both correct in "2" case?

4

Lesser is often found in this sense, and it's not exactly wrong; but it falls ill on my ear. The comparative form of little is less, and I don't see that any nuance is added by using lesser:

The incident is of less importance.

Except in long-established names such as Lesser Britain, I recommend reserving lesser for nominal use:

Enter the lesser of this sum and $10,000.

With regard to less and smaller: In the positive grade, to say that something is of small importance is pretty much equivalent to saying it is of little importance. In the comparative grade, however, the two have different senses. Less may be used to compare two matters of any degree of importance:

This matter is of less importance than the former, which is itself of little importance.
This matter is of less importance than the former, but both are of great importance.

Smaller, however, is only used to compare two matters which are both of small importance:

This matter is of [even] smaller importance.

1

For example 2, a common way to express that idea is to say "The incident is of little importance."

lit·tle
/ˈlitl/ Adjective Small in size, amount, or degree (often used to convey an appealing diminutiveness or express an affectionate or condescending attitude). A small amount of: "we got a little help from my sister"; "you only see a little of what he can do".

Adverb: To a small extent: "he reminded me a little of my parents".

Synonyms

adjective. small - petty - slight - short - low - tiny

adverb. a little - slightly - somewhat - few

from the Google dictionary

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