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I often hear people say "less than", but shouldn't it be "lesser than"? Which one is correct?

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Less, lesser, and littler are all comparative forms of little. They are used like this:

  • little - littler - littlest when you mean "small in size"

  • little - less - least when you mean "small in amount"

  • little - lesser - least when you mean "inferior or smaller in importance"

So if you mean one quantity or number is smaller than another, you say "less than".

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    The OED describes littler and littlest as ‘unrecognized forms’ and comments that they are ‘confined to dialect or imitations of childish or illiterate speech.’ – Barrie England Jan 31 '13 at 12:20
  • I had never heard of a correct usage for littler or littlest; is it common practice in the States? – Paola Jan 31 '13 at 12:23
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    @Paola: maybe youtube.com/watch?v=lgGKSjiw0HQ ? – Groky Jan 31 '13 at 13:27
  • @Paola: As Barrie noted, "littler" and "littlest" are really not proper words. – Ken Bellows Jan 31 '13 at 13:50
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    A children's book "The Littlest Angel" is allegedly the fifteenth best-selling children's book of all time. (Look it up on Amazon.) So, many children, at least in the US, have been misled for years if the OED is to be strictly believed. (Usually I agree with the OED, but here I think they're a little too quick to pass judgment.) – barbara beeton Jan 31 '13 at 15:44
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"Lesser than" would be incorrect since "lesser" and "than" both imply a comparison, which makes them redundant when used together. It would have to either be "less than" or "lesser" only.

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  • "That cat is better than my dog"- seems alright to me. Then why not "That cat weighs lesser than my dog" – Shreyans Feb 25 '19 at 20:21
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    @Shreyans "Lesser" just doesn't mean that. We don't use it as a comparative for general qualities or quantities, only for importance. In your example sentence "less than" is definitely the correct choice. You could say that the cat is lesser than your dog, if you mean it is qualitatively worse in some objective way, but that would be a pretty weird thing to say since we don't really have an objective metric for comparing pets. – amalloy Jun 17 at 18:05
  • @amalloy I understand your point and completely agree, but the answer above our comments seems incorrect. Does "better" not "imply a comparison"? – Shreyans Jun 30 at 23:02
  • To be honest I don't really understand the answer. "Greater than" is obviously a thing that is said, so it seems fine to have two words that "imply a comparison" work together. I think that's the point you were trying to make, but your conclusion makes it sound like you think "weighs lesser than" is okay. If your intent was to say that this answer's proposed rule can't be right and provide a counterexample, I would have stopped with the first sentence. – amalloy Jul 2 at 0:16
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You would say less than or the lesser of. Not lesser than.

However, it largely depends on the sentence in which you're using your particular example, as it may be that using 'fewer than' instead of 'less than' is correct.

  • 'Less' means not as much
  • 'Fewer' means 'not as many'

For example, if I'm holding three apples I have 'fewer than 4 apples'.

If I'm holding half a kilogram of sugar, I have 'less than a kilogram of sugar'.

Here's a BBC article highlighting this often-made mistake: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/7591905.stm

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