4

I'm sure I've read the "less than eager" expression a couple of times, but without being a native English speaker I can't tell for sure if that's an English idiom or a literal translation of an idiom from another language.

A quick search for "less than eager""usage" returned multiple translations engines offers to translate it to various languages as top results. It's never a good sign.

So, is this a less known native English idiom? If not, is there a more appropriate one which I could use?

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    Native English speaker here. I certainly have heard it, and have used it myself. I've no idea from where it originates, but it is certainly heard in at least my dialect (Canadian) of English. – Jim MacKenzie Jun 23 '17 at 18:44
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    I've always heard it used ironically, and it's good English: "They offered me the job at low wages, and I was less than eager to accept." – Yosef Baskin Jun 23 '17 at 18:48
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    @YosefBaskin you've always heard it used ironically? Surely that's not true ... this is a fairly popular English usage, and it definitely doesn't have to be used ironically. – Apologize and reinstate Monica Jun 23 '17 at 23:29
  • How is that usage ironic, @Yosef? – Cody Gray Jun 24 '17 at 10:52
  • @CodyGray - Since I would be unhappy if I needed a job enough to take it at low wages, saying 'less than eager' is a vast understatement. So while I pretend I may be almost eager or close to it, I am actually far from it and expressing it ironically. Of course, 'less than' is neutral -- I could be happy with many things when they're 'less than perfect.' – Yosef Baskin Jun 25 '17 at 13:10
18

It's idiomatic, but it's not an idiom—a phrase or usage whose meaning is not determined by the meanings of its parts. You can use less than readily with just about any adjective which denotes a measurable quality:

less than eager
less than perfect
less than unanimous

As the Comments suggest, less than eager is ordinarily used in an ironically understated sense more or less equivalent to strongly averse.

  • Mistaking idiomatic for idiom. My non-native speaker background is showing, haha. Thanks for the correction and for the answer! – Rhaenys Jun 24 '17 at 12:29
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    @Nihal It's a very confusing pair of terms. Alas, terminology for just about every aspect of English grammar is a mess right now! – StoneyB on hiatus Jun 24 '17 at 12:35
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I wouldn't describe it as an idiom, but it's certainly idiomatic. It's used with other adjectives too. The relevant definition of less is:

(less than) far from; certainly not:
Mitch looked less than happy

I can't tell you why a regular Google search behaves like that, but I had more luck finding examples of usage with a Google Books search.

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    Look man, do not bring me into this. – Mitch Jun 23 '17 at 18:54
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    @Mitch I have no idea what you're talking about... – Laurel Jun 23 '17 at 19:17
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    @Mitch What's wrong? You seem sad... – 1006a Jun 23 '17 at 19:24
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    @Laurel: *cough* look at the username *cough* look at the example in your answer ahem... – psmears Jun 23 '17 at 20:46
  • In hindsight I should have put a little more effort into finding examples by searching "less" first. Thank you for the tip, I actually forgot Google Books existed. – Rhaenys Jun 24 '17 at 12:33

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