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Attending a school with over 800 students was her ________ nightmare

My answer is the worst, but correct answer (from this website) is worst.

I'm not exactly saying that my answer is completely wrong, but this sentence had me thinking about the before superlative adjective. So from school I know that I must put the before most, but what about case where I have legally-transformable (I don't know how to say, i mean without the most) superlative adjective?

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  • Please clarify your question. Is this your complete response: Attending a school with over 800 students was her the worst nightmare? Aug 27, 2021 at 17:00
  • @JeffreyCarney yep Aug 27, 2021 at 17:01
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    I don't even think this is really about the superlative. Nightmare is a countable adjective, so it must have a determiner. It already has one: her So you don't add another one.
    – stangdon
    Aug 27, 2021 at 17:52
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    Well, @stangdon, the superlative adjective is involved. It requires a definite determiner -- "a worst nightmare" isn't sensible while "the worst nightmare" is quite natural. The countability of the noun doesn't seem to matter much, since "the worst software" is also sensible. Aug 27, 2021 at 19:14
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    @GaryBotnovcan Sure; I'm just saying that I can't think of any situation ever where "her the" or "the her" is appropriate. (Any situation like this, obviously, not like "I gave her the toothbrush")
    – stangdon
    Aug 27, 2021 at 20:35

2 Answers 2

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Overview

The test is correct. "Attending a school with over 800 students was her worst nightmare." is proper grammar.

Details

In most cases, when a superlative is used directly before a noun, it takes a definite article, that is "the" comes before the superlative.

For example:

  • John makes the best barbecue.
  • The Empire State was the tallest building in the world when it was built.
  • Anne thinks that Chopin was the finest composer ever.

However, when a possessive is also applied to the noun, the article is normally omitted.

For example:

  • Red is my best color.
  • fall is my favorite season.
  • Three minutes, sixteen seconds is her fastest time.
  • Fear is their most effective technique.

The example sentence in the question is of this type:

Attending a school with over 800 students was her worst nightmare.

When a superlative is used later in the sentence than the noun that it modifies, the article may be omitted.

For example:

  • Of all the buildings in the world, the Empire State was tallest.
  • Of all the buildings in the world, the Empire State was the tallest. (Both are correct and have the same meaning.)
  • There were many women at the ball, but Judith was the prettiest.
  • There were many women at the ball, but Judith was prettiest. (Both are correct and have the same meaning.)

When the superlative is actually being used to compare the same thing at different times or conditions, the article will often be omitted. In this construction the superlative does not directly precede a noun

For example:

  • He is wisest when he has not been drinking.
  • Phar Lap was fastest on sunny days.
  • Wine is tastiest on a clear palate.

In these cases the superlative is really functioning as a comparative.

When a superlative is used as an adverb, rather than an adjective, an article may be omitted.

For example:

  • He speaks several languages, but speaks English most fluently.
  • Of all the players she runs fastest.
  • Joan approached fastest.

In certain fixed phrases, a superlative without an article has become standard, perhaps idiomatic.

  • The report was classified Most Secret.
  • Our cat was awarded best in class.
  • Hashing passwords is a best practice.
  • Her classmates voted her most likely to succeed.

Sources

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  • Great answer - although I suspect that Joan needs a bit of attention. Aug 27, 2021 at 20:06
  • @Ronald I have adjusted the example to avoid ambiguity Aug 27, 2021 at 20:43
  • I didnt quite catch the example fall is my favorite season. Is the word favorite superlative? Does it requires the in case of absence of possessive determiner? Actually, I can't even come up with a sentence without possessive determiner. Aug 28, 2021 at 8:01
  • @RussianStranger I believe that "favorite" is a superlative, or at least can be used as one, a common definition is "Liked or preferred above all others". Example with 'the': "Nuts are the favorite food of mice." It can also be a noun, of course. Aug 28, 2021 at 13:54
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The lesson you were taught was incomplete.

In these constructions, superlatives should be preceded by the definite article (the) or a possessive determiner (my/your/his/her/its/our/their).

Both of these are grammatically correct:

Attending a school with over 800 students was the worst nightmare

Attending a school with over 800 students was her worst nightmare

But you cannot combine a definite (or indefinite) article with a possessive. Just like my the cat or the my cat is wrong, so is my the worst nightmare or the my worst nightmare.

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