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Likewise, watching a group of people, one will quickly notice which individuals act with the greatest confidence, attract the most glances and nods of agreement, are least reluctant to break into the discussion, speak in a softer voice yet expect everybody to listen (and laugh at their jokes!), voice unilateral opinions, and so on.
Source: Our Inner Ape by Frans B. M. Waal

Does this sentence mean some people are unwilling to get into discussions or they are eager to break into them?

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    Can you share more about the source of this quotation or surrounding sentences or events? I ask because it seems a little "off" as it is currently written and I want to see if its intended meaning is clearer with more context. – Tyler James Young Apr 2 '14 at 19:06
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    For one thing, multiple people cannot share the designation "least reluctant". – Tyler James Young Apr 2 '14 at 19:09
  • Here is the complete sentence: "Likewise, watching a group of people, one will quickly notice which individuals act with the greatest confidence, attract the most glances and nods of agreement, are least reluctant to break into the discussion, speak in a softer voice yet expect everybody to listen(laugh at their jokes!), voice unilateral opinions, and so on." – fate Apr 2 '14 at 20:05
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    @fate: You should put the entire sentence in your question text. By taking just one part, and restructuring the grammar in an attempt to form a "sentence", you've ended up with something which effectively defies analysis, because it's not something native speakers would say. I am therefore closevoting as "Unclear what you're asking", but I may retract that if you edit the text. – FumbleFingers Apr 2 '14 at 22:49
  • @TylerJamesYoung It works if the sentence is not comparing individuals to each other, but rather comparing among their various reluctancies. I.e. "there exist individuals for whom the thing they are least reluctant to do to break into discussion." – Kaz Apr 3 '14 at 8:15
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Which do you want to say?

For the former, I would word it like this:

Some people are a little reluctant to break into the discussion.

or, in a more extreme case:

Some people are very reluctant to break into the discussion.

If the latter, I'd say:

Some people are not at all reluctant to break into the discussion.

The phrase "some are least reluctant" sounds problematic to me. Those seem to be two words that don't go together very well; I'd avoid that phrasing.

  • So they want to get into the discussion, right? – fate Apr 4 '14 at 15:00
  • It depends on the context. Suppose I'm in front of a classroom of students, trying to get them to debate each other. In this case, being reluctant to break into the discussion is a bad thing; the students are being overly shy and self-conscious. However, at a party, if someone is breaking into the discussion by interrupting someone else, then being reluctant to break into the discussion might be a good thing, because it shows manners and self-control. Being reluctant to break into a conversation may not say much about one's desire to break in; it may be more a matter of decorum. – J.R. Apr 4 '14 at 22:27
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It means that some individuals are very little reluctant to break into the discussion.

least adj- the superlative of little' that can be used with mass nouns and is usually preceded bythe'; a quantifier meaning smallest in amount or extent or degree; "didn't care the least bit"; "he has the least talent of anyone" Source: Collins dictionary

Though the meaning is clear, I agree that "least" is not appropriate in the sentence. It should be replaced by " at all" or " very little".

  • By the rule you've cited, you should end up with “have very little reluctance” or “have the least reluctance”, either of which would be fine. “Least” is already okay in its original form here, however, as an adverb. – Tyler James Young Apr 2 '14 at 23:07
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Taken literally and without trying to second guess intended meaning, which is difficult without more context, then

... are least reluctant to break into the discussion ...

is synonymous with

... are most comfortable with breaking into the discussion ...

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SUPPLEMENTAL:

All of the answers are good. This is just by way of a heads-up, to emphasize the need for context.

What gave everyone difficulties is the some which you introduced into the sentence. Some are least ADJECTIVE does not work well in English. Some is an indefinite adjective or adverb: it does not identify specific individuals. But least and, usually, most are ordinarily only applied to definite entities, the specific individuals of a group who lie at one or the other extreme of the scale. (This is why in most cases least and the least are interchangeable.) Your source did not employ some but which—a definite pronoun or determiner.

There are exceptions. If ADJECTIVE and its complements in effect ‘partition’ the group modified by ADJECTIVE, it may be appropriate to use some to designate one or another part. For instance, this would work:

Some individuals are least reluctant to break into the discussion, while others are least reluctant to initiate a new discussion.

And most, unlike least, can also be employed as a non-superlative adverb meaning essentially very; when this is the case there is no obstacle to using some:

Some were present only to hear the panelists' views and were most reluctant to break into the discussion.

This use is mostly literary; you are unlikely to hear it in conversation.

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Consider the situation where everyone in the room is a reluctant participant in the corporate ice-breaker role play... but some are more reluctant than others, and some are less reluctant than others.

Amongst the group is an individual who is the least reluctant of them all, or perhaps there are several who are equally 'least reluctant'.

They would rather not do it, as connoted by 'reluctant', but if everyone has to do it then these least reluctant few will go first.

The sentence does not mean they are reluctant or eager, and is a poor use of language because it omits the situation and inclination of the many between the extremes of 'I'm never gonna do that,' and "I love these things."

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