Some people write,

"He travels fastest who travels alone."

Other people write,

"He travels the fastest who travels alone."

Which one do you think is correct?
The definite article 'the' is supposed to be necessary in this sentence or not?
Sorry for this silly question and thank you for reading.

  • Which do you think? Should the be there or not? Have you looked up the quote on the Internet to see its original form? If you have questions about the original form, what exactly are the questions?
    – user6951
    Dec 14, 2014 at 9:07
  • 2
    I think this is an excellent question, not a silly question, so there's no need for an apology. It might be worth mentioning that a few grammatical constructs are rarely spoken, but employed by proverbs – proverbs often have a poetic lilt. I could say, "If you want to travel fast, travel alone," and my words would pretty much convey the same sentiment, but the language would lose some of its proverbial tone. Other proverbs with a similar grammatical air include, "Slow and steady wins the race," and, "He who praises everybody praises nobody."
    – J.R.
    Dec 14, 2014 at 10:05
  • The use of non-referential he is now archaic. It mostly shows up in proverbs and phrases modeled after proverbs, which, as J.R. points out, is what this is.
    – user230
    Dec 14, 2014 at 11:22
  • Why was the answer from @CopperKettle deleted? It seemed like excellent content to me. Dec 14, 2014 at 11:29
  • @bruisedreed I think he deleted it because I said on chat that I didn't think travel was a copular verb.
    – user230
    Dec 14, 2014 at 11:40

3 Answers 3


Both options are perfectly correct: the former emphasizes 'fastest' in comparative terms, the latter in absolute terms.

In everday usage, it is a somewhat subjective choice as to which is preferable. If you were to argue about which should be the canonical version of a proverb, then many would agree with the maxim "brevity is the soul of wit" and plump for the first option.


The meaning is slightly different. "The fastest" emphasizes the comparison more.

Try a sentence more like this and its easier to see

There were five competitors but he was the fastest (competitor - understood ).

  • " He was the fastest " is the superlative of the adjective. Though the superlative of the adverb has today the same form it was originally a form different from the superlative of the adjective.
    – rogermue
    Jun 9, 2015 at 21:03

I don't see any difference between "the fastest" and "fastest" as adverb after a verb. I see it as a simple shortening as without "the" the meaning is still clearly understood. And when a shortened form has come into use it is used.

Edit: I suppose "He travels the fastest" is historically the older structure and "the" is not the normal nominative case as in "the man" but a remainder of an old fifth case form which became identical to the nominative form. We have traces of this form in "the sooner the better" where "the" has nothing to do with the normal nominative/accusative form of the article. Later the adverbial superlative "the fastest" simply was shortened to "to travel fastest". Perhaps it is possible to find some facts which can harden this supposition of mine.

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