1

Václav Havel was one of the more fascinating politicians of the last century.

I would like to ask whether this sentence is correct. I would await the usage of superlative: Václav Havel was one of the most fascinating

  • I have seen similar usages. This must be right, but not according to normal grammar. – M.A.R. ಠ_ಠ Jan 25 '15 at 20:43
  • Both are used, but the version with most seems to be more common. – J.R. Jan 25 '15 at 20:50
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This is not a rare use: it implies that Havel, although not perhaps one of the most fascinating 20th-century politicians, was among those who were more fascinating than ordinary politicians.

  • Do you suppose a writer might use this to deflect possible future criticism? (Perhaps, "How can you put Havel on the same level as Churchill?" or something similar, I mean.) – J.R. Jan 26 '15 at 10:48
  • @J.R. Could be a hedge, but I think it's just pomposity. It's not like there's an official fascination ranking for historical figures. All the writer's really called on to do is describe what he finds fascinating about Havel, and saying up front that he's fascinating doesn't really advance that project; it would be better served by "Vaclav Havel is the only professional playwright to become a head of state in the 20th century." – StoneyB Jan 26 '15 at 13:14
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Václav Havel was one of the more fascinating politicians of the last century.

I would look at the phrase in question in the following way.

  1. one of the politicians of the last century

We need to use the because the politicians belong to a particular period of time, the last century.

  1. one of the fascinating politicians of the last century

Once can use an adjective, fascinating, to modify the politicians.

  1. one of the more fascinating politicians of the last century

Then one can use a comparative adjective in place of a simple adjective.

  1. Finally, the is not used to designate the adjective as the superlative form.
  • Some people still believe that when you say "the most fascinating", you are speaking of one person, not a crowd of the "most fascinating" people. But ever since "People" magazine and their ilk came on the scene, the bar for what constitutes "celebrity" or "fascinating" or "fascinating celebrity" has been lowered considerably, by overuse of superlatives such as "most fascinating". Of course fame is fickle, so such mags could name a different person "most fascinating person" every week, producing 52 of them per year. – Brian Hitchcock Jan 26 '15 at 0:05

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