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Practice English Speaking&Listening with: How & when to use LESS, FEWER, LESSER, and LEAST in English

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Welcome to

I'm Adam.

In today's video I want to talk to you about some confused words.

Now, these are words that are everyday words; they're actually pretty basic words, but people

mix them up all the time.

Now, this is especially important for those of you taking the IELTS test and especially

in Task 1 where you're going to have to compare some information in a bar graph or a pie chart, etc.

But it's also very useful for everybody who's learning English because we're looking at

the words: "lower" and "less".

And, again, very simple words, but mixed up all the time.

Now, while we're already here, I also thought I'd give you a quick look at a couple other

words, or three other words: "lesser", "least", and "lessen".

"Lessen", it sounds like the lesson you have at school or this particular lesson, but notice

that it is an "e", not an "o", so it's a different "lessen" and I'll talk about that in a moment.

So, we're going to start by looking at the function of these two words: "lower" and "less".


The first thing to keep in mind: "Less" is the opposite of "more".


So we're talking about a quantity, we're talking about an amount of something and we're making

a comparison; both of them are used to compare two things.

And we use "less" when we have an uncountable amount; time, money, water.


"I have less water than she has.", "I have less time than she has." etc.

"Lower" is the opposite of "higher".


"Higher", "lower", so we're talking about level; we're not talking about quantity or amount.


That's the big difference.


Different level or different... now, here I put "amount", and I'm not talking about

"amount" in terms of this amount; I'm talking about "amount" - the number, and I'm going

to explain that when I give you some examples.

When I use the word: "amount", or "number", or "rank", etc.

I'm going to be using the word "lower".

When I'm not using these words, when I'm not giving you the totality of something, then

I'm going to be probably talking about "less" when I'm talking about amount.

This will make sense in a moment, I hope.

So, let's start with "less", okay?

The first thing you need to remember is that "less" can be an adjective or an adverb.

As an adjective: "These days, people have less free time than they had in the past."


How much free time now; how much free time then - the quantity: More/less.

In the past - less; now - more.

As an adverb, meaning that it's going to modify, it's going to give you some extra information

about the verb.

Here, I'm giving you extra information about the noun - that's why it's an adjective.

Adverb: "Tech devices cost less today than in the past."

So, cost less.


So, as an adverb, we're talking about the verb.

"Lower" is never an adverb, and it can't be used in this way.

"Tech devices cost lower today" does not work because "lower" is not an adverb.


Now, just before we get to "lower", I just want to make sure that everybody understands

the difference between "fewer" and "less".

"Less" - uncountable; "fewer" - countable.

So if something is countable and you're comparing the amount - "fewer".

"There were fewer people at this year's conference."

I can count how many; 10 people, 12 people, 20 people, etc.

I can count them, so there were fewer this year than last year.

Time I can't count: "Less time than last year or in the past", okay?

So that's "less".

Let's look at "lower".

Okay, so now we're going to look at "lower", okay?

"Lower" can be an adjective: "Tech devices have a lower cost today than they did 20 years ago."


We're using it as an adjective to describe the cost, so $20, $10.

Here we're talking... we're not talking about amount; we're talking about level of price.



10 is lower than 20-right?-in terms of level.

Notice, though, and this is a little bit tricky; this is where you have to get into the nuances

of the language.


"Tech companies have fewer costs today than they did 20 years ago."

Completely different meaning.

I just wanted to point this out.

Why can I use "fewer" here?

And because we're talking about cost.

In this sentence, "cost" means: How much does it cost the company to operate or to make

its products?

Here, "cost" means price; the price of the devices.


So make sure you know what is pointing to what, okay?

That's a little bit off topic, but I just wanted to mention that anyway.

Another thing about "lower" - it can be a verb; obviously "less" cannot.

"Companies are striving to lower the costs of their products."


So, this is the main thing that separates it; you can't use "less" as a verb, you can

use "lower".

You can't use "lower" as an adverb, and you can use "less" as an adverb.

Let's look at a couple more examples, here.

"Gold is a lower-risk investment than the stock market", for example.

Now, here I'm using it as a compound.

And "lower risk", I'm talking about the risk.

I'm not talking about a quantity, how much risk is there; I'm talking about the level

of risk - high risk, low risk.


So, when we're talking about level, we're going to use "lower".

But: "Gold involves less risk than the stock market."

How much risk are you taking on when you buy gold?

How much risk are you taking on when you invest in the stock market?

So ask yourself the question: "Can I ask: 'How much?'"

Here: "How high of a risk am I taking?

How low of a risk?

How much risk?"

That's a little bit of a difference.

Now, might be a little bit difficult to distinguish between these two sometimes.

In some... in some cases you can probably use either one; but in most cases you can't.

So, level: high/low; quantity: much or more... yeah, much or less than that.

Now: "Polyester is a lower-quality material."

Here you have to be careful.

"...a lower-quality material", so the "a" goes with "material" obviously; "quality"

goes with "material"; "lower" tells you something about "quality".

Now, here we're not comparing two different things.

I'm not comparing the, let's say, polyester and cotton; I'm comparing... i'm giving an

idea of the level of quality: high quality/low quality; not how much quality.


So that's another thing you have to be careful.

If I'm using the actual word about the leveller... as I mentioned before, there was quality,

amount, number, rate, etc.

If I'm actually using that word in the sentence, I'm always going to use "lower"; not "less".

"A lower amount of money".

If I want to use "less", I just say: "less money"; I don't need to use the word "amount".

"A lower number of people" or "fewer people".

Now, if you want to count numbers... so, there's a conference, and every year a certain number

of people come, but over the last few years there has been fewer numbers of people coming

to the event, so fewer numbers.

But if I'm just using number, then I'm going to use "lower".

Amount - lower, quality - lower, rate - lower, rank - lower; not less, because these are

levellers, basically, we're talking about.

We're talking about the thing we use to count with; not the thing we use to count the amount,

like measure the amounts with.


I hope this is a little bit clear; but again, this is the main ones: "lower" versus "less".

Now I'm going to give you a bit of a bonus with: "lessen", "lesser", and "least".

Let's look at those.

Okay, so now we're going to look at these few words: "Lesser", "lessen", and "least".

Let's start with "lesser".

"Lesser" basically means "less", but we're talking about quality or degree.


So: "Item A is of a lesser quality."

You could say: "...of a lower quality", and that's fine, too.

So you can... you can mix "lower" and "lesser", but not "lower" and "less".


That's where English gets a little bit confusing.

So, "lesser" is about degree or quality, and then you can mix it.

But this is a much more or... sorry, I should say less-commonly-used word, and therefore

if... again, this is for the IELTS-takers: If you're going to be writing and you can

use words that are not commonly used, your score goes up if you do... if you use them

correctly, right?

And the same with "lessen", which I'll talk about.

A very common expression: "The lesser of two evils", so you have to make a choice about

whatever-politics, business, friendship, anything at all-choice A - bad; choice B - bad, so

you're going to choose the one that is less bad, so we call this: "The lesser of two evils".

And this is another thing to remember: When you...

whenever we use "lesser", it either means less quality or less degree, or you can compare

two things and one is less something than the other, but very specifically about these

two things.


So: "The lesser of the two evils" is whatever; choice A.

"Jim presents a lesser target than Tom."


So, again, let's say politics and we have... i have two people that I want to use as a

communications or spokesperson to go in front of the cameras and speak to the media.

And then I'm thinking: "Okay, well, the media can be pretty mean sometimes.


They're going to attack one of these guys.

Which of these two guys is less of a target?"

So: "Jim is the lesser target" or "Jim presents", you could say, well, a smaller target means

physically smaller.

So: "Jim is less of a target than Tom" - both of them work.

And then I'm using the "be" verb.

Here I'm using an active verb, and that's one of the differences.

If you can use "lesser" correctly, your IELTS score goes up.

Same with "lessen".

"Lessen" is a verb-okay?-sounds exactly the same as "lesson" with an "o", okay?

"Lessen" - to make less.

Now, most people use "reduce" or "mitigate", and especially IELTS-takers love this word:

"mitigate"; I see it all the time, because it's a word that's relatively easy to memorize,

it means to make less, and especially when you're talking about a negative thing; to

mitigate the pain, mitigate the harm.

Now, what's the problem?

No problem.

If you want to use "mitigate", use it.

But in the essay especially: Don't use it more than once.

Remember: Vocabulary variety or range is one of the scores you're getting there; don't

use it more than once.

If you need another word, you can use "reduce".

But "lessen" is a word that is not commonly used.

Native speakers all know it; they... if you use it, everybody will understand it, but

it's still not commonly used; people just prefer to use "make less" or "reduce".

In the IELTS, use "lessen" and your score goes up because you're using less-common words.


"We need to lessen the harm of this policy."

So we had... the government has a new policy; and yes, some people will get hurt, but overall

it's a good policy.

So what we need to do is keep the policy but somehow lessen the harm that it will do to

some members of the population.


"We need to reduce the harm", "We need to lessen the harm", "We need to mitigate the

harm" - all okay.

Sorry, another thing I wanted to say about the IELTS: The graders know that everybody

is memorizing words, and this is one of the words that most people, for some reason, like

to memorize and use.

You will surprise them by using this correctly.

Do that.


And "least".

"Least" is the superlative; "less" is the comparative.

Comparative - two things; "least" - three or more things.

And we're talking about the lowest amount of something.


"Company A presents the least risk among all the group."

"We have many concerns, the least of which", so the minimal.


We have many concerns, but the one that is the... the... not the worst, basically.

It's... they're all bad, they're all concerns, but the one that is not that bad is whatever

- that's the least of which.


"Sure, there are problems" - we created a new product, and: "Sure, there are problems,

but at least it works."

So that's a very common expression: "at least" - means minimal.


So there's a minimal positive to whatever the negative is.


And that's why we use "at least"; very good expression.

So, I hope you understood how to use these words; very useful, especially for those of

you taking the IELTS Task 1 and even the essay - use these words.

If you have any questions about them, please go to and you can ask me there

in the comment section.

There's also a quiz to make sure you understand how to use all of these words, especially

"lower" versus "less", so take that quiz.

And if you like this video, please subscribe to my YouTube channel and come back for more

lessons on grammar, vocab, all this good stuff.

I'll see you then.


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