12

So I just read "less good" on a random chat...

I think this is incorrect, because less good's "proper" word would be worse, but then I thought: if I say "I aced the exam", it's correct. If I say "I got all questions right on the exam", that's correct as well!

What forces me to use worse instead of less good then?

P.S. I have seen this question, but the accepted answer is not the most upvoted one, so I don't know which to trust! Besides, none of the top answers provide a reference to back up what they say, so that's why I'm asking a new question.

  • I think the person is trying to be humble here when he says less good. I have seen people use this way of writing. Like one of the syrian refugee calling his fleeing journey to another country as just 'beyond stressful'. As it's not difficult to imagine, it would have been devastating but the words don't really capture deep agony. – Jony Agarwal Oct 14 '15 at 16:05
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    Best/Better/Good/Less Good/Less Bad/Bad/Worse/Worst – user140086 Oct 14 '15 at 16:25
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    What do you mean by "acceptable"? To whom? Yes, people use less good, and yes, other people understand them fine. There is nothing odd or unusual about less good. Why do you think there might be? – Drew Oct 15 '15 at 1:45
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    Certainly "less good" is "acceptable", and, as shown in some of jejorda's examples, better (or perhaps "more good") than "worse" in some circumstances (since it better conveys the intended semantics). The reason for using "worse" in most cases is mainly that it's the commonly used term and hence less jarring to the reader than "less good". In general one wants the reader to concentrate on the meaning being expressed, and not to be distracted by the choice of words, if that particular word choice serves no particular end, semantically. – Hot Licks Oct 15 '15 at 2:54
23

The Oxford Learners Dictionaries defines worse as, among other things, less good. So I suppose if OLD can use less good, so can we. Still, when comparing two good things I would say:

A 90% score is good, but not as good as 100%.

My admittedly foreign ears don't like the sound of less good than. Google search concurs: not as good as beats less good than 6,000 to 1. This English Grammar advises against less good than on the grounds that "[w]hen making negative comparisons less tends to be used only with multi-syllable adjectives."

Five months later I’m tremendously upset that fickle Google search has not as good as beating less good than 470 to 1 only. I swear it was 6000 to 1 when I first looked into it. Oops, it’s only 17 to 1 in the Ngram. But I include it below hoping it proves more constant. The first few pages of Google books search for less good than return almost only religion and philosophy books. They have more good too (my emphasis):

A degreed property is a property that can be had in different degrees. Goodness is an obvious example of a degreed property. Something can be more good or less good than something else. (David E. Alexander, Goodness, God, and Evil, Continuum, 2012, p. 115.)

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  • I upvoted this answer and the question. But we cannot deny the fact that it is used as the Jeff's answer indicates. – user140086 Oct 14 '15 at 16:43
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    I think that's fair enough. I just wanted to point out that not as good as tends to be preferred to less good than. – Jacinto Oct 14 '15 at 16:53
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    Yes, I also believe not as good is better than less good. – user140086 Oct 14 '15 at 17:17
  • @Jacinto that's a good point. – jejorda2 Oct 14 '15 at 19:15
  • @Jeff Feel free to incorporate it in your own answer. – Jacinto Oct 14 '15 at 19:33
20

There are differences in meaning between worse and less good.

Pancakes with butter taste good, but less good than pancakes with butter and syrup.

If I say that pancakes with butter taste worse than pancakes with butter and syrup, I mean that pancakes taste bad, and some toppings are more bad, rather than less good.

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    I disagree with this analysis. – GEdgar Oct 14 '15 at 16:07
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    @AcidShout probably for the same reason I disagree with it; "worse" doesn't mean inherently or objectively "bad"... it is comparative. For example, if you run a 100m dash in 10 seconds flat, then 10.05, then 10.10, you are getting worse and worse, but that is still very fast/*good*. – TylerH Oct 14 '15 at 20:08
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    For example, if you run a 100m dash in 10 seconds flat, then 10.05, then 10.10... That is why your athletics coach would probably make the encouraging remark that 10.10 was "less good" than your personal best time, not the discouraging remark that "your times were getting worse and worse". There is a similar difference between "less bad" and "better". – alephzero Oct 14 '15 at 21:54
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    Great example, I was having trouble thinking of that was acceptable. But to be fair, I think a less clumsy wording would be Pancakes with butter taste good, but not as good as pancakes with butter and syrup, ala Jacinto's answer. – dwjohnston Oct 14 '15 at 22:08
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    The OP did not ask what the differences are between worse and less good. the question is whether less good is "acceptable". – Drew Oct 15 '15 at 1:44
6

"Less good" is a rather uncommon phrase; it's usually used incorrectly by people that have a weak command of the English language (at least, in the United States of America). Of course, you could construct a sentence where "less good" is perfectly appropriate. This occurs when you're comparing two things that are good (things that are done for some benefit), but one is of a lesser degree than the other.

Saving money later does less good than saving money earlier.

CPR does less good than avoiding an accident.

In this case, "less good" is equivalent to "is not as good as" (with some other minor word changes). In this context, "good" is basically a stand-in for a type of quantity (thanks to @LessPop_MoreFizz for the comment).

The usage of "less" here is the same as we might compare two actual quantities: "5 is less than 10". Less is a comparison of two quantities, so you should actually have two different things that can be compared in a quantifiable manner. "Less" typically goes between two things that are being compared.

For example, you should avoid less good in the following sentence:

I did less good on that test.

In this case, you're not actually comparing two things, so you'd probably go with one of:

I didn't do well on that test.

I did worse on that test than my previous tests.

Or, in response to a question:

How did you do on that test? Not so good.

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    When we refer to something that "Does good" (or "does less good"), 'good' is implicitly standing in for a quantity of sorts. You're right about which uses are appropriate, but you're not correct in your description of why. – LessPop_MoreFizz Oct 15 '15 at 2:52
  • @LessPop_MoreFizz Good point. I think I lost track halfway through. I'll amend this answer. – phyrfox Oct 15 '15 at 2:53
  • I think your last example is misleading because one wouldn't say "I did good on that test", but rather "I did well..." So the reason that sounds wrong is not because of the use of "less good" instead of "worse", but because of "good" instead of "well". – David Z Oct 15 '15 at 3:50
  • I like your first two examples. "Good" is a noun there, whereas the other answers had considered "good" as an adjective only. Would you then say "less good" is fine if "good" is a noun but not if it is an adjective? – Jacinto Oct 15 '15 at 6:52
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    phyrfox - Your answer still suffers from the problem raised by @LessPop_MoreFizz. You give an example of CPR does less good than avoiding an accident. and then you say In this case, "less good" is equivalent to "is not as good as". That statement is incorrect. CPR does less good than* is a valid statement, but 'good' in this case is a quantitative noun. 'less good' can be used for 'not as good as', but this meaning can only be when 'good' is used as an adjective. – AndyT Oct 15 '15 at 11:01
2

I've heard "less good" in two contexts:

  1. People using it where "worse" or "not as good" would normally be used. Usually these are people for whom English is not their native language, but not always. It's not mainstream usage for native speakers in my experience.

  2. People with excellent command of English using it ironically instead of "bad," for emphasis, e.g.:

    "Okay, we use this ladder to get across. Just don't look down at the 12 storey drop. The ladder's old, but the wood's solid, we should be good."

    "But what if it breaks when we're half-way across?"

    "That would be...less good."

What forces me to use worse instead of less good then?

Just convention, nothing else, as with most language. Instead of "less good," we use "worse" or "not as good" depending on the sentence. Instead of "more good," we use "better."

2

I'd say "x is less good than y" explicitly states that both of them are good while worse tells nothing about either one being good or bad so it is perfectly fine to use if you feel like it, but I'd think twice before using it in formal discussion where probably I'd use "x is not as good as y" instead

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    Welcome to the site, fellow noob! :) Just a word of caution here, I agree with your answer but the highest voted answer contains the same advice you're giving and preceded yours by about 15 hours. As such, I don't think you'll get a lot out of this answer. So before you write your answers, I advise you to check whether the answer that you want to give hasn't already been given. – Wolfie Inu Oct 15 '15 at 10:49
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    @WolfieInu I don't think it is that close to it, I explained situations where using this construction may be desired and not just acceptable, and the OLD argument isn't perfect because it is simply one of two ways of defining "worse", the other one being "more bad", and proably more accurate in some cases. Unless you mean the pancake answer that I somehow missed earlier, and isn't top answer now, but it indeed is the same thing just said in less formal way – zakius Oct 15 '15 at 11:46
  • Fair enough! It would probably be more obvious if in your answer you state how it's different from existing similar ones, though. Formatting, links, and fewer run-on sentences would probably help in that regard. Not to be overly critical, just to help your answer's unique aspects stand out more. The better to earn upvotes with! :) (Edit: the answer I'm referring to is Jacinto's, and it's currently still the highest voted one) – Wolfie Inu Oct 15 '15 at 12:17
1

Don't use "less good" if you are using good as an adjective. Its negative comparative form is "worse". If you are using good as the noun, however, you could say "he did less good than he could have last night." That would work.

0

I would say "It is true that you are a very good person, but your close-mindedness sometimes can make you less good." I think less good is not standard English, but there are moments you just want to use it and it is fine. Actually, English is not my native language. I am no expert.

  • Welcome to ELU.SE. Thank you for providing an answer. However this site strives to provide objective answers. Take the site tour or have a look at the help center to find out more about good answers. – Helmar Dec 6 '16 at 9:36
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"Less good" is an odd phrase pandering to political correctness; "worse" carries undertones of criticism and we can't have that. Happily one can appease the thought police without butchering the language.

Pancakes with butter taste good, but pancakes with butter and syrup taste even better.

Same thing, in a positive direction.

  • I think this actually has some element of truth to it. I have heard people use "less good" and "not as good as" as euphemisms. E.g. Your paper was . . . not as good as it should have been. – imallett Oct 15 '15 at 4:55
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    Unsurprisingly the thought police don't like being called out :) – Peter Wone Oct 15 '15 at 5:08
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    This has nothing to do with "thought police", and everything to do with there being multiple ways to express an idea in English, which is a good thing. This answer is a rant without evidence. – Lightness Races in Orbit Oct 15 '15 at 9:01
  • I dislike political correctness as much as the next man, but I fail to see how it applies to preferred pancake toppings. – Wolfie Inu Oct 15 '15 at 9:46

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