"Most" "best" with or without "the"


Is it wrong to say that we can use or omit "the" before "best" with an adverb without any change of meaning, but when we use "most" with an adverb, the meaning of the sentence changes?

For example, "You are the best." Or "You are best." "Choose the book you like the best." "Choose the book you like best." "Choose the book you like the most." "Choose the book you like most". No change in meaning.

But if I have an adverb. "She walks most gracefully." Means she walks very gracefully. "She walks the most gracefully." She is compared to other people.

Antonia A

Posted 2020-08-22T13:28:24.213

Reputation: 75

Where did you find this information? – BillJ – 2020-08-22T14:17:06.370

Judging by these examples if they are correct of course. – Antonia A – 2020-08-22T14:20:06.793

What research have you done? – BillJ – 2020-08-22T14:21:25.347

I read examples in different books and asked questions before as well. After reading rjpond's answer I see that both set of examples can have different meanings but with "most" the meaning of a single sentence changes if I use it with another adverb. – Antonia A – 2020-08-22T14:47:05.460

I see. I was only asking if it's correct to say that. I see that in all the examples below if there was a change of meaning it was in both examples with or without "the" but when I used "most" with an adverb there was an additional meaning. I mean here "You are the best at tennis" "and "you are best at tennis", "choose the book you like the best or best" both of them can have different meanings but "most" and another adverb in a standalone sentence has a completely different meaning. Just a humble non-native speaker's opinion I was no sure about and which prompted me to ask my question. – Antonia A – 2020-08-22T15:42:50.757

I deleted my comment because it seems there is some doubt about "most" in the example "She walks most gracefully". – BillJ – 2020-08-22T16:09:10.413

Was my original opinion correct? – Antonia A – 2020-08-22T16:18:21.970



Best v the best

"You are the best at tennis" v "You are best at tennis"

These mean the same, although both of them have a range of meanings. They could mean that you're better at tennis than other people in the room, or on the team, or at your school, or in the world. Alternatively, they could mean that you're better at tennis than at any of the other sports you play - without specifying that you're better at tennis than other people.

"You are the best" v "You are best"

If the statement was made in the context of a particular discussion (for example, about tennis), the two would have the same meaning (and the same range of meanings that we saw in the previous examples).

However, "You're the best!" as a complete sentence can also be an expression of gratitude, meaning "You're awesome!" - whereas "You're best" rarely if ever has this meaning.

"Choose the book you like the best." "Choose the book you like best."

These mean the same.

"Choose the book you like the most." "Choose the book you like most".

These mean the same.

"She walks most gracefully." v "She walks the most gracefully."

"She walks the most gracefully" usually means that she walks more gracefully than other people (although which particular group of other people is ambiguous or dependent on context, as with the tennis example). Alternatively, it could mean that she walks more gracefully than she performs other activities - this is unusual, but would be clear from the context.

"She walks most gracefully" could be a synonym for "She walks very gracefully". But "she walks most gracefully" could also be used to mean "she walks the most gracefully". So, the version without the "the" carries both meanings (or sets of meanings).


Posted 2020-08-22T13:28:24.213

Reputation: 8 564

Thank you very much. You said "She walks most gracefully" could also mean "She walks the most gracefully" as in either "more gracefully than other people" and "she walks more gracefully than she performs other activities". Right? – Antonia A – 2020-08-22T14:36:43.893

1Yes, that's right. – rjpond – 2020-08-22T14:41:29.257

"Best" and "most" are interchangeable in this example as well. Am I right? "I like vanilla cream the best." Or "best", "the most" and "most". The meaning will not change no matter which word I choose. In the same way "She speaks six languages but she speaks Spanish the most or most confidently." – Antonia A – 2020-08-22T14:51:49.177

1Yes, "I like vanilla cream best", "I like vanilla cream the best", "I like vanilla cream most", and "I like vanilla cream the most" all mean the same thing and interchangeable - although the version with "the most" is slightly more formal, the other three slightly more informal. – rjpond – 2020-08-22T14:55:04.750

1"She speaks Spanish most confidently" could mean "She speaks Spanish very confidently" or it could mean the same as "She speaks Spanish the most confidently". – rjpond – 2020-08-22T14:57:54.200

I didn't edit my comment. You said it can also mean "she speaks it the most confidently" do you mean compared with other people? – Antonia A – 2020-08-22T14:59:01.880

1Yes, that's correct. – rjpond – 2020-08-22T15:02:53.147

Thank you so much for your answers. One more question. If I use "the best" in "she speaks Spanish the best" or "best". Both either mean she speaks it better than other people or better than other languages. Right? – Antonia A – 2020-08-22T15:05:09.703

1@AntoniaA Right. – rjpond – 2020-08-22T15:12:00.700

@rjpond It's incorrect to say that "She walks most gracefully" can mean that she walks more gracefully than someone else. – BillJ – 2020-08-22T15:18:16.680

1@BillJ It isn't incorrect. Quirk et al., A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language, states that "without a definite determiner, the construction with most is always ambiguous between superlative and intensifier interpretation when the adjective is evaluative". So (it explains) "Delia is most efficient" can mean "the most efficient of all" or "extremely efficient" (whereas "She is a most efficient publisher" can only mean "extremely efficient", and "They are most efficient publishers" can also only mean "extremely"). – rjpond – 2020-08-22T15:25:22.127

I disagree with Quirk, whose analyses of certain constructions have been proved wrong by H&P. I'd say that this is one of them. – BillJ – 2020-08-22T15:27:41.597

1H&P (6.3.2) says that "This one is most useful" can be either superlative or intensifying. – rjpond – 2020-08-22T15:42:43.590

rjpond, sorry I am new here. Did you say "right" about this question? If I use "the best" in "she speaks Spanish the best" or "best". Both either mean she speaks it better than other people or better than other languages. Right? – Antonia A – 2020-08-22T15:47:00.607

1@BillJ Ch. 13, Comparative Constructions. p1165 in my edition. – rjpond – 2020-08-22T15:50:35.357

1@AntoniaA That's right. – rjpond – 2020-08-22T15:51:06.750

I wanted to ask you about this example, if you please. "This one is most useful." Means "the most useful" compared to other things. With or without "the" conveys this meaning. I could also use "the". And it also means very useful again with or without "the" or only without "the" it would mean "very useful"? – Antonia A – 2020-08-22T15:57:33.590

You are right - they do indeed. But if memory serves, they said that in "I found this one is most helpful" that "most" was intensifying only. Whatever, I would still use "the most" to avoid possible ambiguity, unless context rules out any ambiguity. – BillJ – 2020-08-22T15:57:54.263

@AntoniaA "This is the most useful" means "this is the most useful compared to other things". "This is most useful" could mean the same thing - or it could mean "this is very useful". H&P make the point that if you say "You are most kind" then (although theoretically ambiguous) it nearly almost means "You are very kind". This is because "kind" tends to have "kindest" as its superlative rather than "most kind", so "You are most kind" is unlikely to be a superlative. – rjpond – 2020-08-22T16:02:01.623

1I found their example: "I found her most helpful", in which it says that "most isn't a marker of superlative grade. There's no explicit comparison between members of a set: "most" just indicates a high degree". Interesting. – BillJ – 2020-08-22T16:12:08.650

Thank you, rjpond. However, "This is the most useful" doesn't mean "this is very useful" unlike "This is most useful". Am I right? – Antonia A – 2020-08-22T16:22:13.467

1You are correct. "This is the most useful" doesn't mean "this is very useful". – rjpond – 2020-08-22T16:26:03.893

Is it possible to upvote a comment? – Antonia A – 2020-08-22T16:46:01.260

1@AntoniaA Yes, it is. You should be able to click a little up-arrow just to the left of the comment that you wish to upvote. – rjpond – 2020-08-22T16:51:35.800

Strange. There are no arrows. Maybe new users cannot upvote them? – Antonia A – 2020-08-22T16:57:30.477

rjpond two more questions, if you please. "She speaks Spanish most confidently or the most confidently" both mean compared to either other people or languages she speaks. Am I right? And this sentence "Delia is most efficient" could also mean that we are comparing the same person to themselves so the article is not used. For example, "Delia is most efficient in the morning". But "Delia is the most efficient" doesn't have this meaning. Right? So "Delia is most efficient". Means the most efficient compared to other people, very/most efficient, or she is most efficient in the morning. – Antonia A – 2020-08-23T14:51:53.760

1@AntoniaA You are correct on all these points. – rjpond – 2020-08-23T15:34:25.983

Thank you. Comments upvoted. – Antonia A – 2020-08-23T15:38:34.530