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What is the difference between least and lowest?

Websites announce as "Lowest prices", but not "least". Least is the superlative degree.

low > lower > least ?

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6 Answers 6

low - lower - lowest

little - less/lesser - least

A price is a level of cost, and refers to value within a scale. It can be high or low, or any variant thereof, but not least. You wouldn't say "the least rung" to refer the bottom level of a ladder, you'd say "the lowest rung."

If, instead of "level of cost," you referred to the cost itself, you could say "least cost." Likewise, you could say the "least high rung" in the case of the ladder.

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@Reg Yes, it does look like a parallel to the first sequence. I agree, and will amend. –  Jay Jan 13 '11 at 19:11
    
least = *lessest. –  Jon Purdy Jan 19 '11 at 22:55

Least is the superlative of little (Merriam-Webster, Wiktionary). Littleless/lesser/littlerleast/littlest.

The superlative of low is lowest (Merriam-Webster, Wiktionary). Lowlowerlowest.

A price can be low or small, but it usually can't be little (that usage is metaphorical), as can be seen by consulting the British National Corpus and the Corpus of Contemporary American English:

                  BNC  COCA

little price       0     4
  (metaphorical)   1     2
small price       64   329
low price         80   355  
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The opposite of high is low. The opposite of more is less.

High and low are seen as declarative terms usually in reference to a fixed scale of some sort. More and less are comparative - they need something to be used as a comparison. Least is used when comparing at least two other things.

Higher and lower are comparative, even though high and low are not.

low-lower-lowest

average-less-least

The lowest price is a price that is compared to other competing prices, and found to be the least high of those compared.

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The superlative form of low is, in fact, lowest.

Low, lower, lowest are all intended to define either altitude/height or rank order.

Least is the superlative of less, or combined with adjectives to make their superlative. "Least attractive," for example.

Least can also mean smallest.

But if you're talking about various forms of the word low, least doesn't enter into it.

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Several people have mentioned that "least" is the superlative of "little". Historically that true, but I suggest that in modern English (certainly in my idiolect), it is nearly always restricted to modifying another adjective or adverb, or as a pronoun in its own right.

Typical uses are "the least likely answer", "the least hungry of us" (modifying) and "the least I can do", "the least of our troubles" (pronoun).

Uses such as "the least number", "the least child in the family", "the least of my people" are unusual or archaic.

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The "least" possible price is zero.

Stores will not advertise the above. Instead, they will advertise the "lowest" possible price that they can accept (and hopefully make money, but they are "taking their chances.")

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