• 2-minute read
  • 22nd July 2019

Word Choice: Lessen vs. Lesson

Sometimes, when two words look and sound similar, they come from the same root term. Other times, the similarity is a complete coincidence. Such is the case with lessen and lesson. And because these words are unrelated, you should always take care to use them correctly in your writing.

Lessen (Become Less)

The verb ‘lessen’ means ‘reduce in degree or amount’. This can be either something that happens naturally or something someone does actively:

Its speed has lessened since the previous observation.

I eat a healthy diet to lessen my risk of heart disease.

As you may have guessed, this word is related to the adverb ‘less’.

Lesson (Learning Opportunity)

The word ‘lesson’ is a noun meaning ‘a time set aside for learning’:

The teacher always prepared lessons that would keep the kids interested.

In the sentence above, for example, we’re talking about a time set aside for formal education in a classroom. But learning a ‘lesson’ can include many things, from taking proofreading lessons online to learning from a mistake:

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After missing my flight, I learned a lesson about planning my journeys.

We will not imprison you this time, but let this fine be a lesson to you.

The ‘less’ in ‘lesson’ isn’t the same as the ‘less’ in ‘lessen’, though.

Rather, this word comes from the Latin lectionem, which meant ‘a reading’. And the original use of ‘lesson’ reflects this, since it once referred specifically to a reading from the Bible rather than teaching in general.

Summary: Lessen or Lesson?

These words may sound and look similar, but they have very different uses:

  • Lessen is a verb meaning ‘become less’ or ‘reduce in amount or degree’.
  • Lesson is a noun that usually refers to a period of time used for teaching. It can also mean ‘learning opportunity’ more generally.

And since these words are so different, you’ll want to use the right one every time! So to make sure your writing is always error free, try submitting a document for proofreading today.

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