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I struggle with the rules related to not using the definite article with the superlative.

I know the following - the definite article is NOT used in these cases:

  • Possessive pronouns (My best friend)
  • Alternatives of the same thing (Tea is best when served..)
  • Who,which,what..+be in sentences such as "I know what is best for you"
  • Adverbs (He runs fastest)

However, none fits to the following:

Ok, if you think that's best.

It was a perfect example of all that's best and most admirable in our system.

What is the reason in these sentences?

  • The definite article could be used all but your first example (My best friend.) It's use may not be as common, but I've certainly heard and read examples of its use in all of those sentence constructions. – Jason Bassford Apr 28 '19 at 20:14
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It doesn't matter that they're superlatives. In all of these examples, the superlatives don't have articles, because they're just adjectives or adverbs. If they weren't superlative, they still wouldn't have articles, because English articles only go on noun phrases, not adjectives.

  • "My good friend": my is a determiner, which takes the place of the article on friend.

  • "He runs fast": fast is an adverb here, and so is fastest.

  • "Tea is good when served ...", "I know what is good for you", "OK, if you think that's good", "It was a perfect example of all that's good and admirable": all of these have a verb attributing an adjective to a noun. Nothing changes when the adjective becomes superlative.

There are a few constructs where a superlative takes an article. The most common is that it can be used as a noun. When it's a noun, it takes an article (or other determiner) just like any other noun. For example:

  • "Of all animals living or dead, the biggest is the blue whale."
  • "I like all kitties, from the cutest to the most bedraggled!"
  • "This poem is not my best.": best is a noun here, so it would usually have an article, but in this sentence it has my instead.

But in all of your examples, the superlatives are simply adjectives or adverbs, with nothing tricky going on.

| improve this answer | |
  • You say "attributing an adjective to a noun". "From all beverages, tea is the best". How is this different from the sentence with tea above? or "He is the fastest runner"? – John V Apr 29 '19 at 5:40
  • @JohnV: I mean they're attributing it with a copula: "the tea is good" instead of "the good tea". – Anonymous May 1 '19 at 15:41

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