Could you help me in understanding the exact meaning of a phrase "for the best part of a generation". For example:

For the best part of a generation--the welfare state generation of 1945-79--this interpretation of Britain's past carried almost everything before it.

Source: (c) David Cannadine "The Rise and Fall of Class in Britain", http://www.nytimes.com/books/first/c/cannadine-class.html

Does it mean "for almost everyone" from this generation? I come across with this phrase in many other papers and sources. Can it be used in direct(?) meaning in describing most notable representatives of a generation of scientists (like "for the best part of a generation, most scientists tend to write about this problem...")?

3 Answers 3


The best part means the biggest part or the most large part.

A generation is a time period, usually about 20 years. It means the average amount of time it takes from birth to giving birth.

It also means all of the people born and living at about the same time, regarded collectively, and A group of individuals living at the same time, regarded as having common cultural or social characteristics and attitudes.

For the best part of a generation--the welfare state generation of 1945-79--


Most of the time between 1945-79, when all of the people born at about the same time, regarded collectively lived, ...

  • I like this answer until the paraphrase; that wording seems a bit clunky or confusing to me.
    – J.R.
    Commented Jan 8, 2014 at 18:52
  • That's because I substituted the definitions of for the most part and the proper choice of meanings for generation. It was meant as an explanation, not a finished piece of writing. Commented Jan 8, 2014 at 23:20
  • I noticed the substitution, but even after I read it three or four times, I still found it very hard to follow. My comment wasn't meant as a criticism, but I wanted to assure any others who might be reading this answer that, if they were having trouble making heads or tails of that last part, they weren't alone. I would have liked to offer a different suggestion, but I'm having trouble coming up with anything better, which is why I upvoted the O.P.'s question. I can sense the meaning of the phrase in question, but putting it into words is elusive. This is a tough nut to crack.
    – J.R.
    Commented Jan 9, 2014 at 1:45

Probably means "for most of a generation," meaning most of that period of time. "The best part" / "most" probably does not refer to a generation of people, but uses "generation" as a loosely defined period of time. See the third definition of "generation." Confusing, ain't it!


This is usually said to refer to (larger) periods inside periods of time.

"For the best part of a generation"

"For the best part of the decade"

"For the best part of 1998"

A generation is usually a period of time that comprises 60 years.

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