A sentence with the word "worth" is like this:

"Cleanliness is the virtue most worth having but one."

...and given that here "worth" is an adjective.But I couldn't understand how ..?

Please,help me...

  • Do look up worth as an adjective in a good dictionary and note the examples. Good Luck. See also English Language Learners
    – Kris
    Commented Feb 1, 2019 at 7:53
  • 1
    Actually, you need to read worth having as a single phrasal element instead.
    – Kris
    Commented Feb 1, 2019 at 7:54
  • "Most worth having" is an AdjP serving as modifier of "virtue". It has the gerund-participial clause "having" as complement. "But one" is a supplementary adjunct.
    – BillJ
    Commented Feb 1, 2019 at 16:56

1 Answer 1


"Worth" is a funny old word. Well, the noun sense of it is fine, it's broadly the same as "value", but the adjective sense, as you observe here, that's a bit of an odd duck as words go.

It's classed as an adjective, but it cannot be applied to a noun on its own. "It is worth" is ungrammatical, even though 'worth' is generally described as an adjective. It has two common uses, and both of them involve it acting almost like a verb, taking what has been observed as something "that can only be described as an object". Indeed, some have suggested that we should treat "is worth" as a verb on its own, or perhaps as one of various other categories of word.

If the 'object' is a noun, then it is a comparison of worth, that is value, between 'subject' and 'object'. "This book is worth its weight in gold", "that painting isn't worth five dollars". If the 'object' is a verb, the overall statement is regarding the value of applying that verb to the 'subject'.

So, let's pare down the example sentence. The essential, with all extraneous bits removed, is "cleanliness is worth having". Cleanliness is either the state of being clean, or a tendency to keep oneself and/or one's environment clean; the fact it mentions it as a virtue shows that the second meaning is intended. So, it is a noun referring to an abstract characteristic, as one might use 'height' or 'intelligence'. "Intelligence is worth having" means there is value to having intelligence - essentially, that it is a good thing to have intelligence. The same meaning applies to "cleanliness is a virtue worth having".

However, we also have a superlative there. "Cleanliness is the virtue most worth having" is applying the superlative 'most' to the 'adjective' "worth having". Not only is there value in possessing this virtue, but it is the greatest value of any virtue.

That is then further modified with the qualification "but one", which qualified 'most', giving rise to the eventual meaning that there is one virtue that is more 'worth having' than cleanliness.

I hope that's cleared things up a bit. The most confusing thing to a learner is, I think, the fact that there's an adjective that requires, for want of a better word, an object.

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