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Freeman’s Head First HTML with CSS & XHTML is a most entertaining book for learning how to build a great web page. It not only covers everything you need to know about HTML, CSS, and XHTML, it also excels in explaining everything in layman’s terms with a lot of great examples. I found the book truly enjoyable to read, and I learned something new!
Source: Head First HTML with CSS & XHTML, p. ii, “More Praise for Head First HTML with CSS & XHTML”

Does this make sense grammatically? Obviously it does, since native speakers use it, but why is that? How does the meaning change?

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    Most, apart from being a superlative marker, can mean very (See Sense 3 of the word). So I think a most entertaining book here may be interpreted as a very entertaining book, which doesn't need the since it's not a superlative. – Fantasier May 22 '14 at 18:03
  • Read it as "is a Most Entertaining Book," as if this book had this title. – Graduate May 22 '14 at 19:56
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    @Graduate I don't think that would help in this case. I agree with Fantasier that the best way to understand the passage is to interpret this “most” as “very”. – Tyler James Young May 23 '14 at 15:23
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In addition to its role signifying an upper limit as a superlative or indicating a majority, the word “most” also enjoys a more relaxed usage as an intensifier. This is the meaning intended in your example:

most

ADVERB

3. Extremely; very:

  • it was most kind of you

  • that is most probably correct

  • That is now no longer a fair representation of their view, and it most certainly is not of mine.

  • It most certainly was not a life-changing experience, but it did provide amusements.

  • History will most certainly exact a heavy price from them for being such imbeciles.

Source: Oxford Dictionaries definition of “most”


This equivalence with “very” makes it possible to employ an indefinite article or no article at all, depending on what you are describing. The ODO examples above give a good sense of when you would not use an article, but in your example the author uses an indefinite article.

This example is a good comparison of an indefinite article and a definite article usage.

The first “most” in the quotation is equivalent with “very”, so you treat it the same way as you would any description of a generic thing. The subject is “way”, and this very entertaining way is just one of many very entertaining ways in which these origins might be explained.

The second “most” is used in the usual superlative way that you were expecting when you read the passage you cited. The author of the NYT review is making the claim that this musical is the most exhilarating storytelling in decades, so the definite article must be used to single out the storytelling in this musical as being the single best storytelling in at least 20 years.

  • So regarding the OP's example, are you saying it should be "a" or "the"? – user3169 May 22 '14 at 22:07
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    In these examples there is no single most which is being preceded by a. – Graduate May 22 '14 at 23:00

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