The definite article before superlative degree

0

1

What are the special cases when we can't use "the" before superlative degree? I'd like the answers with proper explanations. Some of the examples:

  1. He is most likely to succeed.
  2. It is fairest of all methods.
  3. I have read many books. "Against all odds" is best of all.

Aashutosh Kumarr

Posted 2017-07-22T23:47:43.813

Reputation: 1

Question was closed 2017-07-23T10:23:58.337

1What exactly don't you understand? – Robusto – 2017-07-22T23:53:25.217

When a superlative is in the predicative position, we drop the article, e.g.: "Gin is best with a splash of tonic." Do you understand what is meant by predicate? – P. E. Dant Reinstate Monica – 2017-07-23T00:42:45.693

Answers

0

The definite article "the" is not used before the superlative mainly in three cases:

  1. When "most" means "extremely". For example, your sentence (1), which is by the way the only one that is correct in your set, means: He is extremely/highly likely to succeed.

  2. When the superlative is not accompanied by a noun, either implicit or explicit. In P.E.Dant's example above:

    • Gin is best with a splash of tonic,

there is no noun, either tacit or express, after "best". Actually, "best" there means "ideal" and refers to "gin" itself. However, if somebody asks:

A. What's your favourite drink? B could answer: In my opinion, gin is the best (drink).

When you use a phrase that indicates the group within which or the place where a certain item shows some feature in its superlative degree (by comparison with all the other items in the group), then you have to use "the" -- that's why your examples (2) and (3) are wrong:

    2'. It is the fairest of all methods.

    3'. I have read many books. "Against all odds" is the best of all (the books I've read).

Here's an example with a locative phrase:

  • Susan is the best student in my class.

  3. In some verbal phrases with verbs of liking, "the" is optional:

  • Which book do you like (the) most/best?

According to this page, the options with "the" are considered by some to be less grammatical.

In support and as a supplement of what I said under (1) and (2) above (as well as of what @BenKovitz says here: You can even put a in front of a superlative when you intend the superlative to designate only a very high degree of something rather than the one item with the highest degree: The hermitage is a most curious piece of architecture.), we find all of this clearly explained by Quirk below:

Superlative in attributive position

Superlative in predicative position

The superlative without the definite article may function as a relative superlative (compared with other members of the group) or as an absolute superlative or intensifier (without entailing such comparison).

Gustavson

Posted 2017-07-22T23:47:43.813

Reputation: 3 806

In such examples as the one in my comment, the important thing is that the superlative is in the predicative position: we can say "Gin is best", but we cannot say "Best is gin with a splash of tonic" even though no noun accompanies the superlative. – P. E. Dant Reinstate Monica – 2017-07-23T01:56:13.827

@P.E.Dant Being in predicative position does not necessarily entail dropping the article. See my example: *In my opinion, gin is the best.* Also, "predicative" is not the opposite of "subject", but the opposite of "attributive": gin is best vs. the best drink. – Gustavson – 2017-07-23T01:58:34.130

1Certainly we do not always, nor must we, omit the article when the superlative in the predicative position, but when we do, it is there and not in the subject. I noticed that you don't mention this in your answer, and it's an important point. – P. E. Dant Reinstate Monica – 2017-07-23T02:02:30.770

@P.E.Dant Sorry I have to disagree. You forget to mention the use of the indefinite article in attributive and even in subject position: A most interesting book has just been published. What makes the definite article unnecessary and wrong in that position is the absence of the noun. – Gustavson – 2017-07-23T02:05:10.550

In A most interesting book has just been published, the subject is book, and most modifies interesting. There may well be one, but I can't think of an instance in which a naked superlative serves as the subject. – P. E. Dant Reinstate Monica – 2017-07-23T02:09:35.487

2A most interesting book is not a superlative. In that phrase, most is an intensifier and means 'very'. – snailplane – 2017-07-23T02:12:18.880

@P.E.Dant I obviously meant to say that a superlative adjective without "the" could very well be within the subject, not be the subject. – Gustavson – 2017-07-23T02:12:57.773

@snailplane I explained that in my point (1). – Gustavson – 2017-07-23T02:13:59.260

It seems to me you forget what the OP asked. My answer is in reply to his question. – Gustavson – 2017-07-23T02:15:20.577

As I think @snailplane is trying to point out, your answer says: "The definite article 'the' is not used before the superlative mainly in three cases: 1. When "most" means 'extremely'." — but when "most" means "extremely", it is not a superlative! – P. E. Dant Reinstate Monica – 2017-07-23T02:20:44.743

And predicative is not the same as predicate! – Gustavson – 2017-07-23T02:39:01.447

@P.E.Dant Please be consistent. You should then downvote the question you just submitted as a possible duplicate where it says: You can even put 'a' in front of a superlative when you intend the superlative to designate only a very high degree of something rather than the one item with the highest degree:

The hermitage is a most curious piece of architecture. – Gustavson – 2017-07-23T02:44:59.470

thanks PE Dant and Gustavson, I understood your points but you didn't include all of them i guess. As is got to know one from my teacher. -- If a determiner or possessive pronoun is used before it. exa : You are his best friend. : This tallest building in the world is going to remain at the top spot for quite some time. – Aashutosh Kumarr – 2017-07-23T08:43:36.363