I'm really confused about where to put the words "more" and "less" in an imperative sentence.

For example, in the imperative "Wash your hands more", MORE is written after the noun.

However, in "Eat less candy" we put LESS before the noun.

As far as I know, MORE and LESS are adverbs in this context, so should we always put them after the verbs?

I also wish to know if both "Do more exercise" and "Do exercise more" are grammatically correct?

Can you guys show me where to put MORE and LESS in imperatives?

  • 1
    Less is not an adverb in “eat less candy”. Adverbs do not modify or determine nouns the way less does here – that’s what we have adjectives and determinatives for. Jul 3, 2019 at 7:15
  • @JanusBahsJacquet I disagree. What role do you think it plays in just Eat less! Why would adding a noun as a third word change the modification of the verb? Jul 3, 2019 at 8:25
  • 2
    @Jason In “eat less”, less modifies the verb. In “eat food less”, it still modifies the verb. In “eat less food”, you could parse the sentence as having less modify the verb, but that’s a stretch. Compare “eat quickly”, “eat food quickly” and “eat quickly your food” – the latter is unnatural and clumsy, not the natural word order. The same applies to “eat less food” if less is taken as an adverb. Adverbs that modify verbs not usually inserted between the verb and the object in simple sentences like this. Jul 3, 2019 at 9:57

1 Answer 1


In the examples you give, moving the adverb of "more" or "less" alters what word it is modifying. Compare:

Eat less candy

Eat candy less

Either of these are grammatically correct and convey different meanings.

In the first, less is more describing candy, saying that "you should eat a smaller amount of candy". This can either in general (eg. going from eating 5 candy bars a day to 2 candy bars a week), or in the specific event this statement would be said (eg. a group is sharing a bowl of candy and one person has taken half of the candy bars for themselves).

In the second, less feels like it is describing the phrase eat candy. It is a shorter way of saying "Eat candy less [often]". It more describes the amount of candy-eating times, as opposed the amount of candy eaten (i.e. going from eating 5 candy bars a day to 6 candy bars once a week). In this sense "eating candy" is being treated as an activity, and one that someone should do less often.

When making statements like these, it then becomes important to identify whether the action you want "less" or "more" of is more of a discrete activity or a continuous habit. In the case of "washing hand" compare:

Wash more [of your] hands

Wash your hand more

The first sense sounds strange, mostly because you only have as many hands as you have (usu. two). You can't wash more of your hands. This then has a meaning toward " wash further up your arm" or "wash for more time". Note, that if the intended meaning is to do a more thorough job of washing one's hands, then Wash your hands better would probably be used.

The second sense makes sense, as more is modifying "wash" and treating "wash your hands" as an activity. It is stating that one should wash their hands more often than they currently do (eg. twice a day to 5 times a day).

For the "do more exercise" (which doen't currently make sense)" here are some options with their nuance in parenthesis.

  1. Exercise more (exercise[verb] should be done more often or a longer period of time)

  2. Do more exercises (do more types of excercises[noun])

  3. Do the exercises more (do a specific set of exercises[noun] more often)

This again follows the same pattern (for simple commands) that when a modifier comes between a verb and its object, it modifies just the object (usu. in terms of degree). On the other hand if it comes after the object, typically the verb-object phrase is treated as an activity and the modifier describes how often.

  • Nice post, but less is not an adverb in less candy, it's a determinative. Jul 3, 2019 at 8:12
  • Ironically, I disagree with this answer not because I think less isn't an adverb—but because I interpret it as being an adverb in both versions of the sentence. (You imply it's not an adverb when you say it modifies candy. But I don't think it does.) Jul 3, 2019 at 8:35
  • @JasonBassford What would be a better way of describing the differences, using more grammatically appropriate terms?
    – katatahito
    Jul 3, 2019 at 23:57
  • @katatahito Well, it's a matter of interpretation. Depending on how you look at it, less may or may not be an adverb. If I forget how we normally speak, I would think that eat less candy would sound strange when thinking of less as an adverb, because it's not in in a position where you'd expect. However, I think the two seem different because when we hear eat candy less we mentally hear eat candy less often, even though the word isn't actually there. In short, I personally think it's being used adverbially in both cases, because it's modifying eat in both cases. Jul 4, 2019 at 13:40
  • @JasonBassford So what would do about the fact that “eat less sweets” and “eat fewer sweets” mean exactly the same thing and differ only in whether you follow the prescriptive rule that less modifies non-plurals while fewer modifies plurals? Fewer does not function as an adverb at all. In normal English, less does not modify eat in “eat less candy”; it modifies candy. Jul 5, 2019 at 0:16

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