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Given the following sentences:

  1. It is better to stay here.
  2. It is best to stay here.

Are both sentences correct? If yes, is there any difference of meaning between them?

I've always been taught the first one as it sounds like a comparative "It is better to stay here (than to go away)"

I've also been taught that "the best" is a superlative, but I can't understand "best" in sentence 2. as there is no "the" in front of it.

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    You don't have to use the definite article before a superlative. Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is fairest of us all? (although the fairest is also possible, and variations of the phrasing exist). – green_ideas Jan 17 '17 at 19:44
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To answer your first question, yes, both sentences are correct. However, they do have different meanings.

The first sentence means what you think it means:

It is better to stay here than to go away.

Note that it could also mean this:

It is better to stay here than someplace else.

It really just depends upon context. The second sentence, as you said, contains a superlative, "best." In English, unlike in some other languages such as Spanish, the superlative does not require a definite article. In fact, it would actually sound weird to say, "It is the best to stay here."

The second sentence means this:

It is better to stay here than anywhere else.

That looks a lot like my second meaning for the first sentence, but here's the difference: "someplace else" in the first sentence refers to a specific other place, while "anywhere else" means any place where you could feasibly stay.

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Some would say that the first sentence would be better when there are only two options.

For example:

Should we stay here, or go home?
Answer: It is better to stay here.

In that case, the speaker used better instead of best because only two options were being compared.

However:

Should we stay here, go home, go bowling, or go to a movie?
Answer: It is best to stay here.

Because there were more than two options, the speaker used best instead of better.

Important note: Many would say this is a pedantic, formal difference that most don't think about during casual conversation. I would agree. In other words, most of the time, this conversation would be considered acceptable rather than jarring:

Should we stay here, or go home?
Answer: It is best to stay here.

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Both of these are expressions that can have a specific comparison in mind, but most often are just used to suggest a course of action.

You had better eat before you head to school.

Sure, if you read this literally, you can see it as a comparison between eating and not eating. But it's really more of a recommendation and a mild warning of some kind -- for example, that, if you don't eat, you might get hungry later and not be able to concentrate at school.

You had best eat before school.

Again, yeah, maybe it's a comparison between eating and all the other possible things other than eating. But it's really more of an even stronger admonition to do something (like eat), because there may be consequences if you don't. In this way it can even be used as a kind of threat:

It would be best if you went back to your normal life and forgot all about The Matrix, Mr. Anderson.

In all of these there is an implied comparison. But that implication may not be all that important to the actual meaning of the sentence.

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It is better to stay here

You are correct in saying is a comparison to, for example, going away. But may not be as good as another suggestion, for example, staying at a friend's house.

It is best to stay here

Implies that to stay here is better than anything else, and no other suggestion would be better than it.

They are both superlatives, as they are a progression of state from one another. For example, good, better, best. Or tall, taller, tallest.

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