So my brother and I were standing out in the cold.

Brother: "Man, it's cold."
Me: "Yeah, it's freezing."
Brother: "Man, it's more than freezing!"
Me: Slightly confused, but perhaps thinking that he might have intended to express that it is colder than freezing, I ask "don't you 'mean less than freezing?'"
Brother: "Nah, man. It's too cold to be less than freezing!"
Me: Yep, he definitely meant that it is much colder. "Well, if it's colder than freezing, the temperature is lower than zero, therefore 'less than freezing.'"
Brother: "Nah, man! Forget numbers! It's about how you feel. And I feel insanely cold. The word "insanely" is more than the word "just", therefore 'more than freezing,' and not 'just freezing' or 'less than freezing'"

Then, the conversation changes topic.

Now I'm left wondering which expression is the most accurate; is it "more than freezing", or "less than freezing"?

For the record, my brother and I were standing out in the West Coast cold, where temperatures don't often dip below zero degrees celsius. At that time, the temperature was five degrees celsius, too warm to be actually freezing. So him even uttering the word "freezing" is obviously a hyperbole. Hence, I'm not surprised why---to his mind---numbers didn't factor in, but instead just the "feeling" of coldness.

So which one of the two is correct?

  • 5
    Avoid less/more. Above/below is better. Go with below. I curse the phase change thermometer!
    – user116032
    Feb 22 '16 at 0:58
  • something else .
    – Greg Lee
    Feb 22 '16 at 4:16
  • 1
    Obligatory joke link: Norwegian weather. Feb 22 '16 at 5:18
  • 2
    worse than freezing?
    – laika
    Feb 22 '16 at 8:41
  • 1
    Subzero. Frigid. Super-freezing. Intensely freezing. Frozen solid. Freezing past the point of no return. Below zero freezing. Bone-chilling cold. My point is, you and your brother need to expand your vocabulary! Dec 19 '16 at 6:59

We say "below freezing"

The usual way to express this is below freezing, which clearly indicates a lower temperature than freezing.

The British National Corpus has 38 results for "below freezing," and none for "more than freezing" or "less than freezing." The Corpus of Contemporary American English has 256 results for "below freezing," and none for "more than freezing" or "less than freezing."

As you say, the temperature is "lower than zero" (if you're using degrees Celsius). We can also speak of temperatures "under zero degrees."

All of the above mainly refers to literal uses of the word "freezing." If you're using it non-literally to mean "very cold," I might prefer to say "colder than freezing," as you do in your title. Note that we would say "colder" than freezing (not "less cold"); this is probably why your brother feels like using "more." However, if your brother just says it is "more than freezing," he may be misunderstood.

People have actually used "more than freezing" both ways

The one example of this phrase I found in the Google Books corpus refers to a temperature above freezing:

Damn, it's hardly more than freezing and I'm sweating like a stuck pig

(Shermans [sic] Creek: A Redneck Murder Mystery, by Ronald A. Hopkins)

And I found another example using Google search where it is used to mean "above 0 °C":

the NWS forecasts that Boone would warm to a little more than freezing on Monday, while temperatures will drop back below freezing across the region by midnight tonight.

("Winter Weather Advisory Issued for Tuesday, Warns Commuters of Freezing Rain, Snow, More Rain," by Jesse Wood, HCPress.com)

However, I did also find some people who used it like your brother:


That is not “cold.” That is freezing. Actually, that is more than freezing.

("TOL: I Literally Almost Froze This Morning," Postcards From the Present)

When we got up this morning it was still -4C outside – and this was at eight am!

("Day 364: More than Freezing," by Kathryn Dawson)

Q: It is -22 degrees Celsius in Winnipeg, more than FREEZING ( a fact), where is global warming? (question listed on experts123.com)

For this reason, I'd say "more than freezing" is not only unusual wording; it is also ambiguous.

"Less than freezing" might also be ambiguous

In most cases, "less than freezing" seems to be used the way you'd think it would be used: to refer to colder temperatures than the freezing point of water. Examples:

However, I found one interesting example on Google Books where it seems to be used to mean the opposite, although I'm not entirely sure:

Snow and powdered ice that have ever been ſubjected to a cold leſs than freezing are ſpoiled, or rendered much leſs fit for experiments of this kind.

(A Journal of Natural Philosophy, Chemistry and the Arts, Volume 1, by William Nicholson)

  • What do you mean normal? It depends on the approach of temperature change and how it's put to words. One can say less than freezing and mean that it's below freezing, along with it's more than freezing, meaning the same. I'm fine with you saying it's the usual way of saying it, but you shouldn't say something is normal because it is more common. That's not how normal works, or grammatically valid, or temperature valid.
    – Sakatox
    Feb 21 '16 at 23:02
  • 1
    @Sakatox: what I mean is that, as the link and corpus searches indicate, "below freezing" is a much more commonly used phrase than "more than freezing" or "less than freezing."
    – herisson
    Feb 21 '16 at 23:03
  • @Sakatox: I intended the sense given here: "normal: typical, usual or ordinary; what you would expect" – Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary
    – herisson
    Feb 21 '16 at 23:05
  • I know that, but the post isn't clarified enough in this regard. Do not tout normalcy when it isn't the case. Some newspapers might say it that way, some searches might yield other entries. Basically, when talking with someone about temperatures - i learned it the hard way with my Fridge and me wee mum, she thought higher temperatures meant colder. I had to clear up terminology and how temperature is Usually viewed/spoken of. It's the same here. Her way of thinking wasn't abnormal, either. Just confused and unclear - ambiguous, if you will. (Keep in mind, still upvoted. ;) )
    – Sakatox
    Feb 21 '16 at 23:05
  • 1
    This seems to miss that "Its more than _____" is a phrase that can be used and applied to anything. "Your new car is awesome", "Its more than awesome" (meaning you think that awesome isn't enough to describe it because it is so awesome) or "This soup is thick" "Its more than thick" (suggesting that thick is an understatement). "more than ___" (to me at least, Br. Eng) suggests that the word used is insufficient for the intensity of the thing. So in this case it is so cold that saying freezing isn't sufficient.
    – Chris
    Feb 22 '16 at 10:29

In a comment, aparente001 suggested:

Subzero. Frigid. Super-freezing. Intensely freezing. Frozen solid. Freezing past the point of no return. Below zero freezing. Bone-chilling cold.

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