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Less Is More with "Moins"

In our last lesson, we talked about the word plus (more) and how its different pronunciations affect its meaning. Now let’s take a look at the opposite of plusmoins (fewer, less)—which only has one pronunciation, but no fewer meanings! 

Like plus, moins is an adverb of comparison, and can modify both adjectives and nouns. When it modifies an adjective, it’s usually followed by que to form the comparative phrase “less than.” In his video on French breakfast customs, Éric observes that cereal is less popular in France than it is in English-speaking countries: 

Et puis les céréales, mais c'est moins commun que chez vous, qu'aux États-Unis, qu'en Angleterre.

And then cereal, but that's less common than where you come from, than in the United States, than in England.

Cap. 37-38, Arles: Le petit déjeuner 

When modifying a noun, moins is usually followed by de:

Il y a moins de bêtes à chasser.  

There are fewer animals to hunt.  

Cap. 8, Il était une fois - Les Amériques: 1. Les premiers Américains - Part 9 

You can even make moins a noun by putting le in front of it, in which case it means “the least”: 

C’est le moins que je puisse faire. 

That’s the least that I can do. 

When you put an adjective after le moins, the adjective becomes superlative: 

C'est le livre le moins cher et presque tous les éditeurs ont une collection de poche.

This is the cheapest book, and almost all publishers have a paperback collection.

Cap. 36, Manon et Clémentine: Vocabulaire du livre 

Moins is also the basis for several common expressions. There’s the phrase à moins que (unless), which Adonis uses when singing about what he believes is the only acceptable reason for cutting down trees: 

À moins que ce soit pour faire mes jolis calendriers

Unless it’s to make my pretty calendars 

Cap. 4-5, Nouveaux Talents: Adonis chante

Try not to confuse à moins que with au moins, which means “at least”: 

Tout le monde connaît le Père Noël, tout le monde lui a écrit au moins une fois..

Everybody knows Santa Claus, everybody's written him at least once...

Cap. 3, Télé Miroir: Adresse postale du Père Noël

Finally, there’s de moins en moins (“fewer and fewer” or “less and less”):

Ça peut aider aussi à sauver les animaux, à ce qu'ils soient de moins en moins abandonnés.

That can also help save animals so that fewer and fewer are abandoned.

Cap. 12, Grand Lille TV: Des photos contre l’abandon des animaux 

Since moins is a quantitative word like plus, it makes sense that it can be used with numbers as well. You’ll hear it the most often as a number modifier in expressions involving temperature, time, and basic arithmetic: 

Et voilà, me voilà parée pour sortir par moins zéro, moins quinze degrés.

And there we have it, here I am dressed to go out in below zero, negative fifteen degrees.

Cap. 11, Fanny parle des saisons: S’habiller en hiver

Il est dix heures moins le quart. 

It’s a quarter to ten. 

Deux plus cinq moins trois égale quatre.

Two plus five minus three equals four. 

We hope you are plus ou moins satisfait(e) (more or less satisfied) with our presentation of plus and moins! And for any math whizzes out there, here’s an informative article on French math vocabulary beyond addition and subtraction. Why not try learning (or relearning) geometry in French? 

Vocabulary

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