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Using 'Menos'

Word Typically Conveys Idea of 'Less'



Esa vaca tiene menos leche. (That cow has less milk.)

Photo by Bob Jagendorf; licensed via Creative Commons.

Menos, a cognate of the English word "minus," is used to convey the idea of "less" in a variety of contexts. It can function as a preposition, adjective, pronoun or adverb.

Here are the most common ways in which menos is used:

To make comparisons and superlatives: In a comparison using menos, menos is used as adjective or adverb to indicate that something has less or fewer of a quality or quantity than something else. In a superlative, menos is used as the rough equivalent of "least."

  • Mi empresa tiene menos de diez trabajadores. My business has fewer than 10 workers.
  • Duermo menos de siete horas al día. I sleep less than seven hours a day.
  • Había menos de cuarenta coches. There were fewer than 40 cars.
  • Esta región es la menos poblada del mundo. This region is the least populated in the world.
  • Debes hablar lo menos posible. You should speak the least possible.
  • Hay menos hambre hoy. There is less hunger today.
  • Soy el menos guapo de mi escuela. I'm the least handsome in my school.
  • Esa vaca tiene menos leche. That cow has less milk.
  • Necesitan cinco o menos libras de chocolate. They need five or fewer pounds of chocolate.

Noun and pronoun usage: As a noun or pronoun, menos can refer to something that is less in some way:

  • Lo menos es más. Less is more.
  • Quiero eso, y no quiero menos. I want that, and I don't want less.
  • Dame menos. Give me less.

Prepositional use: As a preposition, menos is usually the equivalent of "except":

  • Llegaron todos menos mi amigo. Everyone except for my friend arrived.
  • Se hizo un círculo con toda la clase menos dos estudiantes. A circle was formed with the whole class except for two students.
  • ¿Por qué vienen todos los colectivos menos el que esperas? Why do all the minibuses come except for the one you're waiting for?

Mathematical use: In arithmetic, menos is the equivalent of the English "minus": Cuatro menos dos son dos. Four minus two equals two.

Times: When giving times, menos can be used to indicate minutes before the hour: Son las dos menos tres. It's three minutes before two.

Phrases and idioms: Menos also is used in a variety of phrases. Among them:

  • al menos, por lo menos (at least) — Actos violentos en Irak dejan por lo menos 18 muertos. Acts of violence in Iraq leave at least 18 dead.
  • a menos de (less than) — Hackeaban el iPad a menos de un día de su lanzamiento. They hacked the iPad less than a day after its launch.
  • a menos que (unless) — No hay valor verdadero a menos que haya peligro verdadero. There is no true courage unless there is true danger. (Note that a menos que is followed by a verb in the subjunctive mood.)

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