We used to talk about subtractions employing the word minus as a preposition like "10 minus 5 is 5... "what is 5 minus 3?" ....

Is it OK to replace the word minus by "less" in sentences like "5 less 3 is 2" or "how many is 10 less 5?" (which I see a few old folks still use)?

Moreover, I find that less as a preposition is also still in use. So, I think this usage is grammatically possible.

  • Minus as a preposition is still in use if your concern is that it isn't.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Jan 15 at 9:55
  • If you find that "less as a preposition is still in use" why should it not be correct if minus is correct as a preposition? It may be falling out of favour, but it's correct for the people who still use it. Is the question clear? I must have missed something.
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Jan 15 at 10:16
  • How about answers that include the place? Maybe "5 less 3" is more common in Scotland, and less common in Canada?
    – GEdgar
    Commented Jan 15 at 14:14
  • There is an argument that operations be seen (at least partly) as transformations, with a verby bias. With additions, 10 add 3 equals 13. The increment is distinct from the starting number. 7 times 6 is 42. 6 take 2 is 4. Some even use say 'three square is nine'. Commented Jan 15 at 14:32
  • 6 takeaway 2 is 4 and sometimes, 2 from 6 leaves 4 are also common.. Commented Jan 15 at 14:40

1 Answer 1


Less is synonymous with minus but is less common. It can be used in straightforward cases like "Ten less three is seven," but it tends to be used mainly in other situations, where minus might be less appropriate.

It is used especially where the amount subtracted is expressed by a phrase rather than a numerical value.

The weight so found, less the weight of the sieve, shall be considered to be the weight of the drained grapefruit.

Nor was the sentence of two years less a day within the normal range for such offences.

Less is used as a preposition in the sense "with the exception of."

The only way such error may be cured is by approval of the sentence less the bad conduct discharge, or by ordering a rehearing.

Generally, less seems more likely to be found in highly formal styles.

The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: Allah has ninety-nine names, one hundred less one. Anyone who learns them will enter Jannah.

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