Posted by R. Berg on August 24, 2003
In Reply to: Foolish answer posted by Lotg on August 24, 2003
: : : 'He is less of a fool than I thought he was.'
: : : and 'It might be less of a problem ethically'
: : : How to explain 'less of'?
: : : I've never seen this kind of grammatical rule.
: : It's a comparative. It means smaller in size or degree. You could also say 'It might not be such a big problem ethically' or 'It might be a smaller problem ethically.'
: : The first phrase has an added complication. You could also say 'He is not as big a fool as I thought he was.' However, in English you can have a bigger fool but not a smaller fool! Although grammatically correct, it would not be idiomatic to say 'He is a smaller fool than I thought he was.'
: ::: Wow, now I'm intrigued to know how you can have one without the other. The concept that we can have bigger fools but not smaller fools I don't understand. If you can have a degree of foolishness, how can it only be one way? This is a genuine query, I have no pre-conceived ideas about this, I'm just fascinated at the possibility.
There can be greater fools and lesser fools; that pair of adjectives exhibits the symmetry you seek.