Skip to Content

Is It Correct to Say “Much Less”?

The English language contains many descriptive phrases and words. These grammar tools contribute to the versatility of English and give English speakers the ability to talk and write with a high level of detail. Today, we’ll look at one of these phrases: “much less.”

It is correct to say “much less” when using it as an adverb or a conjunctive adverb. As an adverb, it describes an action: “Dave talks much less in class.” As a conjunctive adverb, “much less” connects two sentence fragments and describes an action: “I can barely run one mile, much less five.”

Through the rest of this article, we’ll break down both uses and meanings of this phrase. We’ll also consider adverbs and how they work in English.

What Does “Much Less” Mean?

“Much less” means a significantly smaller amount of something in comparison to something else. “Less” indicates that something is smaller than something else (source). “Much” gives “less” a more significant size. The phrase is an oxymoron since “much” and “less” are contradictory in definition; however, the words still work together.

“Much” adds volume to the “less” when you put them together. Let’s examine a sentence using “much less” as an adverb to see how this works:

  • Dave talks much less in class.

Because of “less,” we know “Dave” talked a lot in class at some point in the past. This sentence tells us “Dave” no longer talks to the same degree in class. “Much” intensifies the “less” and tells us the amount Dave talks is a great deal smaller than it once was.

We’ll use the following example to break down the meaning of “much less” as a conjunctive adverb.

  • I can barely run one mile, much less five.

As a conjunctive adverb, “much less” indicates one sentence segment as “much less” than the other. If the speaker can “barely run one mile,” the speaker’s ability to run one mile is minimal. “Much less five” means the speaker’s ability to run five miles is significantly smaller than their ability to run one mile.

Statements of this sort typically follow the flow of logic. So, for example, if the speaker can hardly run a single mile, it makes sense that they can’t run five miles because five miles is a far greater distance than one mile.

How Do You Use “Much Less”?

As an adverb, “much less” appears between a verb and its object or after the object. As a conjunctive adverb, “much less” connects two related sentence fragments and modifies a verb so it appears between the fragments.

Because the phrase acts as an adverb in both uses, you can only use it with an action. Otherwise, the sentence is confusing.

“Much less” isn’t a noun or verb, so it needs other nouns and verbs to form a sentence that holds meaning. This phrase supports the sentence rather than taking the spotlight. Let’s revisit the above examples to understand how this works.

Each element of the sentence is color-coded to show their role with the subject in purple, the verb in red, the preposition in orange, the object in green, and the adverb “much less” in light blue.

  •  Dave talks much less in class.

If this sentence loses its verb or nouns, “much less” loses meaning. Likewise, without “much less,” the sentence’s meaning completely changes.

  • I can barely run one mile, much less five.

Once again, if the sentence lacks any verbs, nouns, or the phrase “much less,” the meaning is lost. When you use “much less,” it makes up a vital part of the sentence.

When Can You Use “Much Less”?

You can use “much less” anytime you want to tell your audience that something is significantly smaller than something else. It pairs with any verb so long as the rest of the sentence follows grammar rules. “Much less” attaches to a single action as an adverb and conjunctive adverb.

Image by Vanessa Giaconi via Unsplash

While its adverbial form doesn’t need an adjective to portray that the action is significantly less than something else, as in “Dave talks much less,” the conjunctive adverb needs at least two contrasting elements. These can be adjectives or verbs.

This is because “much less” uses a comparison, as we see with “I can barely run one mile, much less five.” This sentence needs both “one” and “five” to indicate the speaker’s inability to “run” the stated distances.

Here are two examples that show the differences in each use of “much less.”

  • The dog barks much less than before.
  • The dog won’t stop whining, much less barking.

Using “Much Less” in a Full Sentence

As noted above, the adverb “much less” appears around the sentence’s verb. While it modifies the verb, “much less” doesn’t need extra punctuation. On the other hand, a comma always comes before “much less” when you use it as a conjunctive adverb because it connects two sentence fragments.

“Much less” and its verb’s object can readily change places within a sentence. The following sentences are correct:

  • Dave talks much less in class.
  • Dave talks in class much less.

The conjunctive form of “much less” must have a comma, or the sentence is incorrect. This is because of the use of commas to “separate contrasted coordinate elements” (source). Let’s return to our “running” example to see this comma rule.

  • I can barely run one mile, much less five.

“Much less five” is the contrasted coordinate element. It contrasts with “barely run one mile” to show the speaker’s inability to make it for “five” miles. “Much less” is a vital component of this because it’s through this phrase that the second segment of the sentence contrasts the first.

When Not to Use “Much Less”

Don’t use “much less” if there’s only a slight difference between two things. “Much less” doesn’t make sense in this context. Also, don’t use the phrase before the verb. While some adverbs can come before the verb, a sentence with “much less” before its verb is incorrect.

“Much less” indicates there’s a considerable distance between two things. In the statement, “Dave talks much less in class,” there’s a significant distance between the amount “Dave” currently “talks in class” and the amount he previously talked “in class.”

“Much less” doesn’t make sense if “Dave” only “talks” a slightly smaller amount than before. If you want to portray this kind of idea, you need a modifier other than “much” to indicate that “less” is small, such as “slightly.”

Some adverb and verb combinations are correct with the adverb before the verb, but this is not true with “much less.” The following sentences exemplify this error:

  • My cat much less eats food than my dog.
  • Adults much less are taller than children.
  • Jeremy much less runs than when he was younger.

What Are Conjunctive Adverbs?

By definition, a conjunctive adverb links independent clauses together (source). However, as we see with “much less,” conjunctive adverbs aren’t limited to independent clauses. In our example, “I can barely run one mile, much less five,” the second portion of the sentence is incomplete by itself.

Conjunctive adverbs are useful in transitioning between ideas and sentences. You’ll recognize the following words even if you didn’t realize they are conjunctive adverbs (we used some of them in this article):

  • Also
  • Anyways
  • Consequently
  • However
  • Moreover
  • Nevertheless
  • On the other hand
  • That being said

 What Are Adverbs?

Adverbs are like adjectives, except they describe verbs instead of nouns. They’re helpful in explaining how an action is done, such as “running quickly” or “sitting quietly.” Adverbs fall under many categories: time, place, manner, degree, focusing, evaluative, and linking (or conjunctive) (source).

Image by Edge2Edge Media via Unsplash

Adverbs of time, place, and manner are straightforward. Use adverbs of time to indicate when something occurs, a place for where something happens, and a manner for how something happens.

Adverbs of degree are trickier. They’re prevalent and overlap with other categories. They indicate the relationships between things, positioning, extremities, and other general states of existence. This may not make sense by definition, so we’ll have a few examples below to help you understand what these adverbs do.

If you need to direct your audience’s attention to an item or emphasize the importance of something, you should use adverbs of focusing.

Evaluative adverbs cause the audience to consider a topic in a new light. These words are a writer or speaker’s means of showing their opinion or presenting a different way of thinking.

Finally, linking adverbs are the same as conjunctive adverbs, which we discussed in the previous section.

This article was written for

Take a look at this table to see adverbs of each category:

EvaluativeIn my opinionPersonallySurprisingly
LinkingHoweverMuch lessThen

Final Thoughts

We can’t say any one article of speech is more important than another; however, the English language wouldn’t be the same without adverbs. These tools help us describe our thoughts and actions with depth and flavor and help us understand others as they portray their ideas. 

Some adverbs, such as “much less,” perform more than one function, doubling their usefulness. Hopefully, there’s now much less confusion around adverbs.