The difference between the superlative with "the" and without "the"


  1. My house is the tallest in my town.
  2. My house is tallest in my town.

Are these two sentences the same or different in meaning?


Posted 2015-11-06T13:22:27.763

Reputation: 849

Question was closed 2015-11-07T19:35:00.560

This question has its own merit +1. I hesitate to mark it as a duplicate but I'm not above the community. – Maulik V – 2015-11-25T07:29:07.607



Please note that this is a a rule of thumb and may not always fit.

The superlative with "the": this means it is the most [adjective] out of all relevant objects, with whatever limitations are applied. It is like (re)stating the object after the superlative.

My house is the tallest in the town.

My house is the tallest house in the town.

The tallest house in the town is my house.

This is the more common than without the "the".

The superlative without "the": this means it is true for the specified object compared to itself when all of the restrictions apply. It is like adding a "when" after the superlative.

My house is tallest in the town.

My house is tallest when in the town.

When in the town, my house is taller than at any other times.

This doesn't make sense for all objects or scenarios, like a house since they do not move. An example that makes sense:

I am happiest at home.

I am happiest when at home.

I am happiest when I'm at home

An example where these rules don't work:

Which season is coldest? (This is obviously comparing all of the seasons but lacks a "the".)


Posted 2015-11-06T13:22:27.763

Reputation: 786

1I agree that your interpretation of "My house is tallest in the town." is possible, perhaps even the most likely interpretation of the sentence, but I think it's possible to parse it to mean the same thing as "My house is the tallest in the town". – Senjougahara Hitagi – 2015-11-07T00:47:31.973


The sentence without the means the same as the sentence with the.

Tallest, with or without the means (the) most tall. It does not mean very tall (something you suggest in a comment).

Note that it is customary to use the definite article with the superlative in most contexts. However, there is no rule that says one has to. In addition, there are some constructions or concatenations where it is usually not used.

For example, in the sentence:

Fastest land animal in the world: the cheetah can reach speeds of...


My cherry pie won best-in-show.

See the link provided by Araucaria to see other examples of a superlative (fastest) used without the.


Posted 2015-11-06T13:22:27.763


Headers and titles are often written in "headlinese", which is a little different than standard English usage, so I don't think it's relevant to the OP's query.

– stangdon – 2015-11-06T16:19:43.337


The superlative always uses 'the'. Your sentence 2) just isn't standard English, however you came to learn it.


Posted 2015-11-06T13:22:27.763

Reputation: 6 681

This isn't true, I'm afraid. See here.

– Araucaria - Not here any more. – 2015-11-06T14:35:39.177

In my opinion, tallest (without "the") in that sentence means "very tall". Is it true? Thanks. – yethu – 2015-11-06T16:00:35.427

@yethu No, the sentence without "the" means the same as the sentence with "the." Tallest, with or without the means (the) most tall, not very tall. I've edited my answer to specify this. – None – 2015-11-06T16:24:49.800

1Not true, you could say "Out of all the kids in my class, I am tallest". To me (and probably in standard English), adding "the" is better, but dropping it isn't wrong per se. – Senjougahara Hitagi – 2015-11-07T00:41:29.420

"I am tallest" is clear and may be used in some varieties, but it is definitely not standard English. It does not occur at all on Google Ngrams. "Ran fastest" is not a direct comparison, as 'fast/faster/faster' is an adverb in that sentence. – Sydney – 2015-11-07T05:01:20.167