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Etymology 1[edit]

From Middle English leste, lest, last, from Old English lǣst, a contraction of læsast, læsest, lærest (least), from Proto-Germanic *laisistaz (smallest; least), related to Old English læs (less). Cognate with Old Frisian leist, Old Saxon lēs. More at less.



least (comparative less)

  1. The most little; the smallest amount or quantity of something.
    He earns the least money in his family.   Of all the sisters, she has the least patience.   I can only afford to pay the least of the bills.  I'm giving (the) least of all towards her present.
    • 1857, Edmund March Blunt, The American Coast Pilot: Containing Directions for the Principal Harbors, E. & G.W. Blunt, page 135:
      The least water we could find there was 4 fathoms, which bears from the point S.E., and is distant 1½ mile.
    • 1847, John Duncan, Duncan's Travels:
      To have demolished and rebuilt the walls, would have been a very costly expedient, and as the least of two evils, the painter's brush was resorted to; here and there however, above some of the windows, the black wreathings of the smoke are still discernible through the white covering.
    • 1913, Joseph C. Lincoln, chapter 5, in Mr. Pratt's Patients:
      “Well,” I says, “I cal'late a body could get used to Tophet if he stayed there long enough.” ¶ She flared up; the least mite of a slam at Doctor Wool was enough to set her going.
    • 1959, Georgette Heyer, chapter 1, in The Unknown Ajax:
      Charles had not been employed above six months at Darracott Place, but he was not such a whopstraw as to make the least noise in the performance of his duties when his lordship was out of humour.
    • 1960 December, “The first hundred 25 kV a.c. electric locomotives for B.R.”, in Trains Illustrated, page 727:
      Comparison of the four bogie designs shows that the Rugby-built A.E.I. bogie has the least number of components and a minimum of metallic wearing surfaces.
    • 2004, Jim Baggott, Beyond Measure: Modern Physics, Philosophy, and the Meaning of Quantum Theory, Oxford University Press, page 48:
      Light does not need to know in advance which is the path of least time because it takes all paths from its source to its destination.
Usage notes[edit]

Some grammarians recommend to use least only with uncountable nouns, as in the examples above with the smallest amount of sense:

  • 1965, H. W. Fowler, Fowler’s Modern English Usage: Second Edition:
    [W]hen the context—unemotional statement of everyday facts—is taken into account, at a less price ought to be at a lower price, and a lesser prize ought to be a smaller prize.

To such grammarians least is the superlative of a little, not that of little, so it does not mean smallest, but the smallest amount of. With plural nouns, they recommend fewest. However, other authorities disagree; the OED lists least as a synonym of fewest without any usage notes discussing this meaning.[1]



least (negative superlative)

  1. Used for forming superlatives of adjectives, especially those that do not form the superlative by adding -est.
    It was the least surprising thing.
  2. In the smallest or lowest degree; in a degree below all others.
    to reward those who least deserve it
    I never hid the truth, least of all from you.
    I don't much like housework, and I like cooking least.


least (plural leasts)

  1. (philosophy) Something of the smallest possible extent; an indivisible unit.



  1. (archaic, outside of fixed terms) superlative degree of little; smallest

Derived terms[edit]

Etymology 2[edit]

Contraction of at least.

Prepositional phrase[edit]


  1. (informal, nonstandard) At least.
    • 1876, Mark Twain [pseudonym; Samuel Langhorne Clemens], chapter VI, in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Hartford, Conn.: The American Publishing Company, →OCLC, page 65:
      “Why he took and dipped his hand in a rotten stump where the rain water was.” “In the day time?” “Certainly.” “With his face to the stump?” “Yes. Least I reckon so.”
    • 2019 December, Justin Blackburn, The Bisexual Christian Suburban Failure Enlightening Bipolar Blues, page 79:
      What a stupid white privileged POS I am! Least I call myself out.


  1. ^ least, adj, pron, and n, and adv.”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, 7 July 2019.


Norwegian Nynorsk[edit]

Alternative forms[edit]



  1. passive infinitive of le
  2. passive infinitive of lea