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I know a few rules when the definite article is not used with superlatives, but none fits here:

An event for best friends.

If I add "the", it sounds odd to me, as if I talked about certain people.

But what is the actual grammatical reason why "the" should not be used with the superlative here?

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Because you don't have to have an explicit determiner for plural nouns. Remove the adjective:

An event for friends.

That's absolutely fine. The addition of the adjective best doesn't change anything.

An event for best friends.

There's nothing odd to see here; this is perfectly normal.

  • Well but "best" is the superlative and those normally should include "the", right? This is what I struggle with. Or what about - "The next race will include only the fastest runners" - here I would say I do need the article. – John V Apr 17 at 10:02
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    @JohnV But in that case, there is a definite set of fastest runners - hence the definite article. Best friends is a description of the relationship between two people. You could think of it as a set phrase rather than a noun and superlative, if that makes it easier. The deeper explanation is that superlatives need a determiner if they are specific (and it might be a different determiner - "the best friend" would be unusual, but "my best friend" would not), and usually they are - but not always. – SamBC Apr 17 at 10:09
  • Yes, these are the rules: when combined with possessive pronouns, superlatives cannot have the definite article. Another rule is that when we speak about a different "form" of the same thing (the shadows are longest in the late afternoon ...// we do not compare different shadows but describe the same shadows under different circumstances). But with the example in my question, I could not figure it out. – John V Apr 17 at 11:08
  • Consider the question that might be asked of one person to another (most typically children, I would think): I know we're friends, but are we best friends? – SamBC Apr 17 at 12:09

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