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''The least common multiple''

Why isn't ''fewest'' used since the noun is countable?

And why ''many people?''

Thank you

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  • Maybe just me... but I don't quite understand your question. Do you have a context?
    – Mike C
    Mar 12 '17 at 11:17
  • 'Least' is an adjective; 'few/fewest' quantifiers. It's the quantifier usage of 'less' that is often (but not always: 'That's one less problem' is idiomatic, rather than 'That's one fewer problem') used with non-count nouns. Mar 12 '17 at 15:01
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(Context for others: The Least Common Multiple is also known as the Lowest Common Multiple. It is the term for the lowest non-zero number which has two particular factors. For example, the LCM of 3 and 7 is 21.)

I believe that thinking of 'least' in this context as synonymous with 'lowest' makes the reason for its usage clear: you are not counting multiples, you are looking for the lowest multiple. Taking our example again, what makes the 21 the least common multiple of 3 and 7 is not that it happens less frequently than, say, 42, because they both exist once, but rather that it is the lowest of the numbers which have 3 and 7 as factors. This usage of the word 'least' is consistent with the first definition of least as "smallest in size, amount, degree".

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