I would like to say that inequality increased in time as a small proportion of patients started to receive extreme amounts of rehabilitation. However, Grammarly says that I should not use "less" before "equal"? Is my sentence wrong in the way it is?

The temporal analysis showed that the division of rehabilitation resources became less equal between its receivers.

  • Grammarly thinks that equal is a binary adjective — either things are equal or they aren't. You can't say that 2 and 5 are less equal than 3 and 4, because neither of these pairs are equal. If you're using equal in a different sense, less equal is fine. – Peter Shor Apr 30 at 15:38
  • 'Less equally shared'? – Kate Bunting Apr 30 at 15:40
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    It's acceptable in situations where, as @Kate points out, 'less equally shared/more grossly unequal', is the meaning. This is comparable to 'this tank is fuller than that one', where 'fuller' is shorthand for 'more nearly full'. Absolute adjectives have their usages stretched like this. – Edwin Ashworth Apr 30 at 15:43
  • More remarks on the subject: english.stackexchange.com/q/293974/349876 – LPH Apr 30 at 15:59
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    Maybe you don't want "equal" at all, but resources became less equitable. – Yosef Baskin Apr 30 at 16:30

As an adjective, equal is defined (to quote one source) as:

-the same in amount, number, or size

-someone or something that has the same importance as someone or something else and deserves the same treatment

-the same in amount, number, or size


From this point of view it is therefore impossible to make a comparative. Either two things are equal or they are not. There is no degree of equality.

Interestingly the same constraint does not apply to unequal. There is an implied degree of inequality in the example of "10 and 2 are more unequal than 5 and 7", and the inequalities may be compared according to the degree of difference.

Hence we may say that things are more unequal, as in your question, but it is loose usage to say they are less equal.


I add that this sort of "abuse" (see below) of equal crops up in George Orwell's Animal Farm, which encouraged in a humorous way this distorted usage of the meaning.

This phrase has been used by George Orwell in his phenomenal novel Animal Farm. This is, in fact, one of the seven commandments for the Animal Farm pigs reinterpreted to be read as “ALL ANIMALS ARE EQUAL / BUT SOME ANIMALS ARE MORE EQUAL THAN OTHERS.” This phrase is an ultimate example of the systematic abuse of language and logic of pigs, with the intention to take control of the underlings.

Literary Devices

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    Although the Cambridge entry you cite includes one example of "roughly equal", which makes no sense if equal is really a binary thing and it's impossible to be nearly equal or more or less equal. – Stuart F Apr 30 at 16:40
  • If you look at Ngrams, people are just as likely to say less equal than more unequal. Your answer is logically correct, but logic is not always applicable to language. – Peter Shor Apr 30 at 17:03
  • As usual the irony loses most of its intensity over time... we compare degrees of equality regularly now – Pete W May 1 at 1:18

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