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For example:

I could not face being alone again and losing the person dearest to me.

I wonder why there is no "the" in front of "dearest".

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The noun superlative

The the is there, two words ahead of the superlative adjective. Usually in English the adjective comes ahead of the noun, but in this sentence it comes after the noun. The is not so flexible,* so it still precedes the noun. You could also write it like this:

(1) I could not face being alone again and losing the dearest person to me.

The noun superlative is actually a very standard construction. Here are some typical examples:

The person most capable should be chosen for the job.

The person last to use the bathroom is responsible for cleaning it up.

The motion-picture camera is the tool closest to the human sense of observation. [Source]

As your example and the last two examples illustrate, the reason for putting the superlative after the noun is often to avoid separating the superlative from a prepositional phrase that modifies it: “dearest to me”, “closest to [something]”. My sentence (1) sounds a little awkward because it separates the superlative from its prepositional phrase, though it’s still grammatical and comprehensible. If you really wanted to put dearest first, you’d probably rewrite it with a phrase or clause that modifies the noun phrase as a whole, although this invokes a different sense of dearest (no longer the superlative of dear to me but dear to general):

(2) I could not face being alone again and losing the dearest person I know.

When the modifies the adjective but the noun won’t take an article, then you have to put the after the noun:

Ladies and gentlemen, meet Henry the Eighth, also known as Henry the Fattest, Henry the Meanest, and Henry the Worst (well, the worst after King John).

You actually don’t need the

There actually isn’t any special rule that a superlative requires the. It’s just that a doesn’t make sense there, since a means to pick one of many, and by definition a superlative has only one instance. But you can use other determiners that can refer to a unique instance, including no article at all:

that most cunning of animals, the fox. [Source]

I sent my fastest galloper to Daleer Khan. [Source]

This fastest car will not be in garages any time soon. [Source. This one is unusual, but it shows that it can be done. Context must provide something for this to point to.]

Alan seemed most likely to succeed. [Source]

“Rapunzel is fairest of all.” [Source]

You can even put a in front of a superlative when you intend the superlative to designate only a very high degree of something rather than the one item with the highest degree:

The hermitage is a most curious piece of architecture. [Source]


* But maybe CarSmack can figure out a phrase of the form adj noun the (not like “Henry the Eighth”, etc.).

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  • Re: You actually don’t need the: besides the, the other definite determiners are this/that/these/those and possessive pronouns. So 'that most cunning...' and 'this fatest car' work. However, both most likely to suceed and fairest of all work like titles or a unique role, which do not need the article: "You can be champion of the world, Rocky." "She was appointed head coach of the volleyball team." See also. Edit: otherwise, superlatives usually do take the. – user6951 Jan 16 '15 at 6:23
  • @CarSmack Thanks. I'll add an example with a possessive pronoun. – Ben Kovitz Jan 16 '15 at 6:26
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    In your final example, "a most curious", most used in this way is equivalent to "very". The correct term for this is an intensifier rather than a superlative. thefreedictionary.com/most – JavaLatte Mar 17 '16 at 16:25
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    @JavaLatte Indeed there are many terminologies for English grammar, varying from the traditional terminology to highly technical terminologies only of interest to linguists. Even on that freedictionary page, some dictionaries say "intensifier" and some don't. The traditional terminology has many flaws, but it has the advantage of being common knowledge among English speakers, so I'm (mostly) using it here. I think adding another grammar term would only confuse my point about not needing "the". The concept is there, just not the word "intensifier". Thanks for the suggestion, though. – Ben Kovitz Mar 17 '16 at 18:01
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What? Are you going to say: the person the dearest? :)

Dearest is an adjective that that has been placed after the noun.

Since the modifies the whole noun phrase, the is placed at the beginning of the noun phrase, ie before person.

You would also not put an article before dearest when you use it at the beginning of a letter or before a comparative/superlative adverb preceding dearest:

Dearest John,
We had the most dreariest weather today. Unfortunately, I lost the person (most) dear to me when he stepped on a landmine.
Yours sincerely,
Roxanne

Note: most dearest is considered nonstandard, because both most and -est mark the quality superlative. But people also use best to describe the better of two people, when it makes more sense to use better since better is a comparative.

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1

dearest modifies the noun person, so person gets the article the.

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