at + adj? is it correct?


  1. She got married at 25 when she was at her most beautiful.

  2. The meteorological data for the period 2000–2017, when data are at their most reliable, were used in this study.

Are these grammatically correct sentences? I feel like the clauses read awkwardly and not grammatically correct. I know it can be 'at + noun'? not sure if there is construction as 'at + adj' ? or maybe the adjs are used as nouns?

The second sentence was written by my English-speaking supervisor, and I imitated and wrote the first sentence but I just read them very awkwardly, so I post it here to ask.


Posted 2019-09-29T06:22:47.693

Reputation: 452

Why are you asking about these particular sentences (and not all the other English sentences you see), and what do you see as the problem with them? Just asking "is it grammatical" won't get useful replies, except "Yes" (or "No") But if you explain why you think there is a problem, we can write a useful long answer. – James K – 2019-09-29T07:23:12.930



Grammatical but Possibly Awkward


The example sentences in the question are not grammatically wrong. Adjectives are most often followed by nouns, but elided forms and various fixed phrases and idioms can alter that.

However, this sort of construction can be awkward, and often recasting it will improve and clarify the sentence. This depends very much on the specific sentence involved.

In this particular case I would not say that the first example sentence is awkward, much less wrong, but I think it could be improved. The second example, in part because of its complexity, does seem a bit awkward to me.

The form "at my/his/her best/worst" is a very common fixed phrase, and can be used freely. Other uses of this construction are less common, and may or may not work well.

Examples of the construction

  • I like to visit Longwood Gardens in May, when they are at their most vibrant and beautiful.
  • I recommend middle-period Heinlein, when he was at the top of his form.
  • In election years, partisan outcries are at their most prevalent.

Recasting the original sentences

The originals might be recast as:

  • She got married at 25 when she was at the height of her beauty.
  • She got married at 25 when she was more beautiful than at any other period of her life.

  • The meteorological data for 2000–2017, the period when the data were most reliable, were used in this study.

  • The meteorological data for the period 2000–2017, for which highly reliable data are available, were used in this study.

These alternate versions seem to me to flow batter, but that is a matter of opinion. The originals are not wrong.

David Siegel

Posted 2019-09-29T06:22:47.693

Reputation: 17 300


I am not at my best until lunch.

At one's most/least [adjective] is a fixed idiom; it may or may not be elliptical for at its most/least [adjective] state/condition/..., but those nouns would call for in rather than at. That is, we rarely say at a state or at a condition, we say in a state etc.

Anton Sherwood

Posted 2019-09-29T06:22:47.693

Reputation: 998

Could you please clarify the last bit, "but those nouns would call for in rather than at"? It's unclear whether you're saying they'd ordinarily call for in, or in those particular (un-ellipted) phrases, because if it's the latter, the "may" part in "may or may not be elliptical for ..." doesn't really hold, and if it's the former, it's not clear what the purpose of that remark (that these nouns are usually preceded by an in) is. – None – 2019-09-29T21:50:26.807

I'm only saying that the differing uses of in/at weaken my conjecture about the origin of the idiom, though I don't think they wreck it entirely. – Anton Sherwood – 2019-09-29T21:57:03.793

Alright, thanks. The phrase at issue is treated as a complete idiom (i.e., not lacking any ellipted words) by a dictionary such as this one:

– None – 2019-09-29T22:14:07.620