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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. Commented Jun 23, 2017 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." Commented Jun 23, 2017 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.
    – user428517
    Commented Jun 23, 2017 at 23:29
  • How is that usage ironic, @Yosef? Commented Jun 24, 2017 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.' Commented Jun 25, 2017 at 13:10

2 Answers 2

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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.

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  • Mistaking idiomatic for idiom. My non-native speaker background is showing, haha. Thanks for the correction and for the answer!
    – Rhaenys
    Commented Jun 24, 2017 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! Commented Jun 24, 2017 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
    Commented Jun 23, 2017 at 18:54
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    @Mitch I have no idea what you're talking about...
    – Laurel
    Commented Jun 23, 2017 at 19:17
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    @Mitch What's wrong? You seem sad...
    – 1006a
    Commented Jun 23, 2017 at 19:24
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    @Laurel: *cough* look at the username *cough* look at the example in your answer ahem...
    – psmears
    Commented Jun 23, 2017 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
    Commented Jun 24, 2017 at 12:33

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