One of the mysteries of the English language finally explained.
1attributive Not so great or important as the other or the rest.‘he was convicted of a lesser assault charge’‘they nest mostly in Alaska and to a lesser extent in Siberia’less important, minor, secondary, subsidiary, marginal, ancillary, auxiliary, supplementary, supplemental, peripheralView synonyms
- 1.1 Lower in terms of rank or quality.‘you're looking down your nose at us lesser mortals’‘the lesser aristocracy’
subordinate, minor, inferior, second-class, subservient, lowly, humble, servile, menial, meanView synonyms
- ‘Instead, it's how they deal with the stuff that would sink a far lesser talent.’
- ‘He showed no signs of jet lag, again something lesser mortals complain of.’
- ‘Perhaps lesser mortals in this field should wait for the hearings?’
- 1.2 Used in names of animals and plants which are smaller than similar kinds, e.g. lesser spotted woodpecker, lesser celandine.
- 1.1 Lower in terms of rank or quality.
On the punctuation of lesser in compound adjectives, see well
a/the lesser evil (or the lesser of two evils)
The less harmful or unpleasant of two bad choices or possibilities.‘authoritarianism may seem a lesser evil than abject poverty’
- ‘I am not in favour of war but believe that it may be the lesser of two evils.’
- ‘If you must decide between the lesser of two evils, just stall.’
- ‘Well, I'm talking about the fact that we have a voting system where people are conditioned to believe they have to cast their vote for the lesser of two evils.’
- ‘The corruption and bloodshed have become so unbearable in a few countries that some people long for the return of the old colonial powers, that now seem to be the lesser of two evils.’
- ‘This greatly reduces our available choices, and, in the end, we are not necessarily choosing the best candidate, we are choosing the lesser of two evils.’
- ‘As the November elections approach, there are those who will say that one must simply accept the inevitable and vote for the lesser of two evils.’
- ‘Compare the lacklustre projected scenes with the even more insipid attempts at historical re-enactment on stage, and the recorded material appears to be the lesser of two evils.’
- ‘I don't think there is a real answer that is all win and no losses - it's accepting the lesser of two evils.’
- ‘People adopted the position that a Yes vote was the lesser of two evils.’
- ‘It's almost kind of choosing the lesser of two evils.’
Middle English: a double comparative, from less + -er.
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