The other day we were talking about the traffic snarls in Bangalore. “Once the Metro is made, the road congestion will reduce,” someone said. Something seemed wrong in that sentence. The subordinate clause was okay, it was the principal clause that felt like a morsel of rice with a stone in it. Wouldn’t it be better to say, “…the congestion will decrease.”? On referring, I found that the two are more or less synonymous. But decrease means to cause something to become less or to become less. Whereas reduce means to cause something to become less . (There are several other differences as well but I refrain from teaching. ) After that I have noticed people using the two as and where they please and the stone gets my teeth each time.
Less appears to be a harmless little word, but it can increase my blood pressure. For one thing it is often used with countable nouns where fewer would be correct; as in there are less organizations that promote eco-friendly drives. My OED says that ‘less is now commonly and more increasingly used with plural nouns instead of fewer’ but it also adds ‘this is still thought to be incorrect English and careful speakers prefer fewer’. Call me outdated, but I writhe to see The Hindu being careless. (What’s more, even the computer doesn’t show it as an error.) But what gets my goat is the use of lesser. It is like saying worser or betterer. Less is already in the comparative degree. An –er isn’t required. Granted lesser is used to refer to something that is not as great as another. (Do go to that delightful book, the dictionary, for the pleasure of words)
Everywhere we see the use of the double comparatives or double superlatives such as she is more stronger or she is the most strongest. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrgh….. need I say more? Of course Shakespeare did write, “That was the most unkindest cut of all.” But then I will allow Bill anything.