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I remember MS word suggesting the words most common to commonest and it still does! That's okay. Why use two words when a single sure-word is available for that (Save ink, save energy from typing)

But then, are there any cases where splitting out the adjectives is preferred. Interesting is Ngram for the usage most common over commonest in recent years. The result is surprising.

Ngram results apart, is there something that decides most common over commonest? Also, my question is not limited to most common and commonest but all such superlatives.

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  • Most common sounds better than commonest. There's no real reason beyond that.
    – user230
    Apr 17, 2014 at 14:53

2 Answers 2

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In spoken English, the form of the superlative is usually decided by the number of syllables in the adjective.

One syllable words get -est.

Multi-syllable words use most.

Of course there are exceptions such as some words ending in -y. So, one would never say commonest but you would say shiniest.

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  • you din' get me. I know this very basic rule but this is not exactly I'm asking here. Thanks for the attempt though.
    – Maulik V
    Apr 17, 2014 at 12:36
  • Then it would depend on what you want to emphasize, the adjective or the noun. So, "that's the brightest light" has focus on the light. "that light is the most bright" puts focus on the brightness.
    – DTRT
    Apr 17, 2014 at 12:46
  • Okay, let me try. Why use most common instead of commonest though both serve the same meaning and emphasize on something that's very very common? I'm not asking how superlatives are formed but concerned where use the longer version though the meaning remains the same. Are there any instances, rules? That way. Hope it's clear now.
    – Maulik V
    Apr 17, 2014 at 13:06
  • An example: Eating spicy curry is most common among North Indians. OVER *Eating spicy curry is commonest among North Indians. And emphasizing? Our purpose of using superlatives is emphasizing only, isn't it? Again, split superlative or un-split -that's the concern.
    – Maulik V
    Apr 17, 2014 at 13:08
  • While it may be technically correct, a speaker of US English would not say commonest. Either way, like I said, splitting can change the emphasis from the noun to the adjective.
    – DTRT
    Apr 17, 2014 at 13:17
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It's kind of a collective habit of the speakers. Remember, languages aren't constructed by an automatic machine that goes by a given algorithm. They evolve naturally, by everyday usage and iterations. There are patterns, but not really absolute rules for forming new words. Someone wants to express a thought, they make up a word according to a familiar pattern that feels right to them and others are likely to comprehend, someone else repeats what they've heard, and so on... If there are competing possibilities, they may exist alongside one another or one prevails and the other ends up forgotten. So, most people are used to "most clever" rather than "cleverest" but "narrowest" rather than "most narrow". How exactly that came to be? Well, it might be affected by the difficulty of pronunciation ("cleverer" is a bit of a mouthful), coincidence with a homonym ("commoner" as in an ordinary person), and even good old random chance.

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