"the best of friends" vs "best friends" from quora.com:

"they are the best of friends" usually means two people who get along very well despite being very different. Quite often a little kid of speaking age who forms an attachment to an adult they see fairly frequently such as the postman and always likes to see him for a little chat. Family members will say "oh yes, they are the best of friends".
Whereas when we recognize any two people usually of the same gender, who have a lot in common and maintain a close friendship, from school kids through to oldies, we readily say "they are best friends"

"They are the best of friends" means they are good friends. They get along well together. It can apply to a small group of people who hang out together.
"They are best friends" refers to two people who truly rely on each other and without one the other would feel lost.

I understand what "best friends" means.
I understand why "best friends" means what it means.

I understood from the text above what "the best of friends" means.
But I don't understand why "the best of friends" means what it means. That is, from where does it take such a meaning?

They are the best of friends. — I can only understand it as "They are the best of those people who we consider as friends", but the meaning explained above is different. How did "the best" and "friends" connecting with "of" begin to mean something other than the usual phrases having "of", e.g. "one of my friends teaches yoga" ?

Maybe "of" in "the best of friends" has some special meaning - in this case, could you please show me it in a dictionary?

  • 3
    "The best of friends" does not necessarily imply that the people in question are very different from one another. It simply means "They are as good friends as it is possible to be". Nov 27, 2022 at 8:35
  • 1
    The base meaning of "they are the best of friends" is more something like "of all the friendships you might encounter in the world, theirs counts among the truest/closest". In other words, here "of friends" means "of all the various friendship relationships". So, it's just saying the people in question are very good friends, but it's a distinctive phrase that's often used to emphasize that something about the friendship is unusual, or precious, or tragic. E.g., the friendship was unlikely, or perhaps it went through a period of struggle. Sometimes it can have a sarcastic tone. Nov 28, 2022 at 1:47
  • compare: best of friends//worst of enemies: these are idiomatic.
    – Lambie
    Dec 9, 2022 at 19:26

2 Answers 2


Best is a superlative. It's an adjective that marks something at an extreme limit on some scale or order. Other superlatives include worst, biggest, smallest, oldest, youngest.

Of in this phrase is a function word introducing a set or collection: Which of these shirts do you prefer? Of all my cousins, Mary is my favorite. You need to answer two (out) of three questions correctly to win.

A dictionary definition of this sense is given in 4a here.

The definitions of the phrases from Quora given in your question are incorrect.

The best of friends literally means the best of all possible friends.

So if we say it of two friends, it literally means that the friendship is the best one possible between any two people.

In its common (idiomatic) use, it most often actually just means "very good" friends.

Just like we often use something like I'm the luckiest person in the world to simply mean I'm very lucky.

  • 1ST FACT) X and Y are best friends. — this means there isn't a better friend for X than Y. ----- 2ND FACT) X and Z are the best of friends. = X and Z are the best of all possible friends. = The friendship between X and Z is the best one possible between any two people. — therefore, the friendship between X and Z is better than between X and Y, but this contradicts the 1st fact. Where is the mistake? Thanks.
    – Loviii
    Dec 9, 2022 at 20:03
  • You might be my best friend, but that doesn't mean "there isn't a better friend for me." You are the best of the friends I currently have. The best of friends conveys a sense of an archetypal ideal. Dec 11, 2022 at 1:48

If you think about it, expressions like "my best friend" are relative. If you have only ten terrible friends, your 'best' friend is just the least terrible one.

"Best of friends" is more descriptive of the relationship two people have than of either of the individuals in the friendship. For example, if two people have a poor relationship but then make up and move past their disagreements they may say that they are "best of friends". Saying they are just "friends" can sometimes just mean cordiality. "Best of friends" really means the friendship is the best it can be.

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