Less in positive and comparative form

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Less in positive and comparative form

Post by Lilac » Thu Nov 07, 2019 11:47 am

I have a question about "less".
I know that the comparative form of "little" can be "less" or "lesser". But I saw somewhere a positive-comparative-superlative table and there "less" was the positive form, "lesser" the comparative and "least" the superlative form. It confused me, because everywhere where I searched about it, I found that less is a comparative form of little. How could it have then a comparative form "lesser", if "less" is already a comparative word?
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Re: Less in positive and comparative form

Post by Alan » Fri Nov 08, 2019 8:35 am

'Less' is indeed the comparative form of 'little' when referring to quantity rather than size, i.e. as in 'less money' (adj.) or 'less hungry' (adv.). In the same sense, 'least' functions as the corresponding superlative adjective or adverb (the least money, the least hungry (of all, etc.)).
However, it should be noted that, regarding the adverb 'least', the connection with 'little' is generally notional rather than formal, since in contemporary parlance we do not actually say '*little hungry' but rather 'not very hungry'.

'Lesser', on the other hand, is etymologically related to 'less' but functions either as a pronoun (as in 'the lesser of two evils') or as an adjective meaning typically 'smaller' (as in 'lesser panda') or 'of less worth' (e.g. 'a lesser man' = 'a man of lower courage/moral integrity' etc.'). It therefore means more than simply 'less' as in 'less money'.

Thus there is no real hierarchical difference between 'less' and 'lesser', but rather a difference of either meaning or of grammatical function.