I am wondering, in the following sentence:

(the) best players have little time for other hobbies.

Should I use the definite article? I am talking about best players in general.

  • You'd probably have to change "best" for outstanding or excellent or something. – anouk Apr 25 '19 at 15:26
  • @anouk Why? I can say "This is the kind of event you go to with best friends", also with no article. – John V Apr 25 '19 at 15:28
  • @anouk "best" is perfectly fine in this context. You might disagree with the intent of the statement, of course, but there's nothing wrong with the grammar. – Andrew Apr 25 '19 at 15:37

Ordinarily, and in this context, best is a superlative adjective and superlatives always require the definite article. Other rules about the specificity of a noun aren't important, here. When you're using a superlative, you use "the."

Better players usually win -> The best players usually win
High peaks are harder to climb -> The highest peaks are harder to climb
Low valleys are wetter -> The lowest valleys are wetter

There are other, idiomatic uses of best, in which it's not treated as a superlative, but as an ordinary adjective; for example, best friends. This is "idiomatic" in the sense that it evolved from a phrase, or an idea like "my best friend" that is, "my friend who is the best" or maybe "my friend who is the best at being a friend." This grammatical phrase morphed at some point into the not-strictly-grammatical "a best friend." There are likely other, less common examples where best has morphed into a non-superlative adjective, but these are exceptions to the rule.

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  • But that is not entirely true, see the following textbook examples: Every class has a best student, They are best friends.. The explanation (not mine): It's a “non-superlative” best that doesn't refer to any definite comparison group. – John V Apr 25 '19 at 15:29
  • @JohnV I think this answer is fine. There are various ways "best" can be used (e.g. "best friends") that aren't really superlatives as such. You can say "every class has a 'best student'" when talking in general, but when referring to a specific, "the best student in the class is Marjorie." – Andrew Apr 25 '19 at 15:41
  • @Andrew I do not like the statement "Best is a superlative adjective and superlatives always require the definite article", it seems to exclude the cases I mentioned. But I have not down-voted as it just might not be precise enough. – John V Apr 25 '19 at 15:43
  • @JohnV I'm saying the use of "best" in something like "best friends" is not really as a superlative. It's just a compound idiomatic expression, related to, "They are the best of friends" -- i.e., their friendship is very strong. It's possible for someone to have more than one "best friend*". I suppose this answer can be edited to qualify these cases, but are they really relevant? – Andrew Apr 25 '19 at 15:49
  • @Andrew Alright, but then the other use (every class has a best student) etc. is using "best", the adjective, but definitely does not require the article because it is used as a non-superlative. All I am saying is that the answer equals "best" with superlatives and thus needing and article. – John V Apr 25 '19 at 15:52

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