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Surfing social media is one of the most, if not the most popular ______ among my friends.

  1. Should I use "pastime" or "pastimes" here?
  2. Should I place a comma between "most" and "popular"? If I should, the answer is "pastimes", isn't it?
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    You could always rearrange or reword the sentence to avoid the matter. As an example, Surfing social media is perhaps the most popular pastimes among my friends means nearly the same because if the activity could be the most popular, then it’s unlikely that it’s not near the top in popularity. Commented Jun 20 at 11:57
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    No plural without one of the most popular of pastimes.
    – Lambie
    Commented Jun 20 at 15:05
  • It's the plural one. The parenthetical is just an "add on". The sentence has to work without the parenthetical.
    – Fattie
    Commented Jun 20 at 16:08
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    @PaulTanenbaum's suggestion is good but I think you meant to use the singular. Commented Jun 20 at 20:03
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    I think this sentence is a good example of ones that make a lot of native speakers stop and wonder what's right. Commented Jun 21 at 3:19

2 Answers 2

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Surfing social media is one of the most, if not the most, popular pastimes among my friends.

This is the most natural way to express it in English.

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Surfing social media is one of the most, if not the most popular ______ among my friends.

Bracketing commas come in pairs, and hence we need a second one. However, this can't work. The sentence is problematic as one of the most needs a plural, but the most needs a singular.

I suggest this slight re-ordering:

Surfing social media as a pastime is one of the most, if not the most, popular among my friends.

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    I think you ignore the parenthetical when determining the pluralization. It may sound weird because "the most" is closer to the noun.
    – Barmar
    Commented Jun 20 at 15:47
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    Popular what? You've broken the sentence up in a way that doesn't work in English.
    – deep64blue
    Commented Jun 20 at 17:28
  • Putting "pastime" in front just makes the sentence more awkward. To be valid, you need another pair of commas: "Surfing social media, as a pastime, is...," to keep us from parsing "surfing social media as a pastime" as a single phrase (like "doing X for work"). At that point, the levels of inverted syntax seem odd, like saying "This truck, as a vehicle, is the reddest in the parking lot" instead of "this truck is the reddest vehicle in the parking lot." Commented Jun 20 at 20:07
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    Sorry - as a native English speaker, your suggested re-ordering doesn't sound natural to me. Commented Jun 21 at 1:43

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