(1) She says the U.N. does not have enough food for all of the refugees, so it helps those most at risk.

(2) Last year, U.N. agencies worked to establish who were the most at risk among all registered Syrian refugees.

How should I understand "most " in (1)sentence and "the most" in (2)sentence? Are they the same? Do they both modify the words at risk in the same way?

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    Please see this link could not explain it better myself. If you still have a doubt after following this link then please come back and post your doubt.
    Commented Mar 6, 2014 at 10:35
  • @user48070: I assume by "preposition phrase" you mean the words at risk. I don't think that's a very good way to refer to those words (in some terminological systems it may even be "incorrect"), so I've edited to make things clearer. If I've misunderstood you then feel free to revert the edit (but in that case further explanation would be good). Commented Mar 6, 2014 at 22:20
  • @FumbleFingers Your edit seems fine to me, but I have to ask: if you don't think it's a preposition phrase, then what do you think it is?
    – user230
    Commented Mar 7, 2014 at 22:10
  • @snailplane: I'm not remotely suggesting at risk should be more properly described using some other terminology. But firstly I'd point out that when I searched for a definition, Google said "Did you mean prepositional phrase'?". Secondly, it's a very atypical example of "at xxxx" (more akin to, say, "at once", or "at the very least", which aren't very similar to the textbook standard examples like "at home", "at the stroke of midnight"). Thirdly, I just thought since even I had to think a bit to understand what OP meant, maybe it wasn't the best choice of words for others. Commented Mar 7, 2014 at 22:27
  • @FumbleFingers Preposition phrase is used in some modern grammars such as CGEL. I believe it was introduced by McCawley because it more closely parallels terms like noun phrase and verb phrase (we don't typically say nominal phrase and verbal phrase), and others adopted it for the same reason. Other grammars stick to the more traditional prepositional phrase.
    – user230
    Commented Mar 7, 2014 at 22:38

2 Answers 2


Generally, when you use most to describe something more, as an adjective, it takes the definite article the. That's because that thing/person you are describing is unique.

She's the most beautiful girl I have ever seen.

On the other hand, when you use most as an adverb, you may drop the definite article (it's optional). Here, it means the major part or up to great extent of that something.

What I like most about her is she's too innocent.

Furthermore, in some adverbial uses of most, the article won't look natural.

A car should undergo a regular servicing to work most efficiently.

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    You're right, but I think just that single word "precisely" at the start won't necessarily make precisely clear what you mean in relation to OP's specific question. I actually had to go back over it myself to see that, because I was considering posting a comment saying "But you haven't directly answered the question". I think in fairness to the type of people who will be using this site, it would be better to make the point more clearly in the answer text that both OP's variations are fine, and they still would be if most and the most were swapped around. Commented Mar 6, 2014 at 22:14
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    @FumbleFingers removed.
    – Maulik V
    Commented Mar 8, 2014 at 2:40

Firstly, the words 'at risk’ is an idiom which means: In an endangered state, especially from lack of proper care: unsupervised children who are at risk of dropping out of school.

When most is used without an article, usually function as an adjective and means almost all:
‘most at risk’.

‘The most’ is usually used to form the superlative degree of comparison where it goes in front of longer adjectives:
'the most at risk’


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