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If someone tries to help, but their actions are not just useless, but actually damaging, is that "less than useless" or "more than useless"? Or would both be correct and understood in the same way?

  • At least they tried to help. – Nigel J Oct 7 '17 at 20:12
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    "Less than useless" would be most idiomatic. – Hot Licks Oct 7 '17 at 20:18
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    Note that "less than useful" is another idiom, meaning something not seriously detrimental, but at the very least confusing, and distracting from the problem being addressed. – Hot Licks Oct 7 '17 at 20:37
  • Worse than useless in the usual form around here. OK, ngrams agrees with me, but the convergence of less than useless and more than useless is fascinating. Have a +1. – Phil Sweet Oct 7 '17 at 21:14
  • Note that there is a danger that "more than useless" would be taken to mean "better than useless', which is to say "not very good, but it's at least trying". – Hot Licks Oct 7 '17 at 22:08
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The commonly used expression is "worse than useless."

"But arguments from the best of all worlds are always worse than useless."

"Drugs and pills are worse than useless, if anything they are harmful."

^ both quoted in Collins Dictionary


You could also use "less than useless":

They relieve the moviemaker of responsibility for his product and they encourage the viewer-juror to watch his own reactions to a film rather than the film itself, rendering his opinions less than useless.

^ Walter Kirn, New York Times Sunday Book Review

His own father had been killed in an incident not more than a year after Yakov's birth--something less than a pogrom and less than useless....

^ Bernard Malamud, The Fixer


"More than useless" would be very atypical, unless it is part of a phrase such as "little more than useless," "no more than useless," or "nothing more than useless."

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Of the options presented, less than useless is best, but I've never heard it used. I would say "worse than useless" which is in wide use and unambiguous in meaning.

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I would say

less than useless

Saying 'more than useless' is pretty confusing.

Obs: less than useless sounds very offensive to me. Try not to say it unless you are ok with losing some friends.

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