I'd like to know if there is something I should know about when making a decision to use/not to use the article with most when it modifies the verb. For example,

My main passion are the horses that's what I love the most about the sport.

Each of us has to find what we love most about our profession.

It's having your family and your friends alive, and that's what matters the most.

Put yourself in your partner's shoes to gain perspective on what matters most.

Is this again one of those cases of personal preference, or is there a better explanation?

I read on another forum that when love most is followed by about, the is often ommitted and, from my research, it really seems to be the case. So does it depend on what words go next?

I thought it was the case with formality/informality as the Oxford Learner's Dictionary states, but it doesn't sound very convincing to me. Also, both the Corpus of Contemporary American English and google books give more results for "love most/matter most" versus "love the most/matter the most".


Most has two closely-related meanings.

1 the largest in number or amount
2 more than half / almost all of somebody/something

As that OALD link says, the most is often used for the first meaning - but informally, the is often omitted. It's never used with the second meaning.

Suppose The Queen of Hearts were to ask "Who ate my tarts?"...

A1: "The knave ate the most"
A2: "The knave ate most"

If several courtiers ate one tart each, but the knave ate two, then either answer could validly be given, since he ate more than anyone else (but note that A1 is a "very slightly formal" usage).

But if the knave actually ate more than half (but not all) of the tarts, only A2 is correct. Though the Queen might not understand that intended distinction, since the could be omitted anyway.

It's worth making the point that the is never included when most simply means very...

"I am most grateful for your help"

...but interestingly, whereas in...

"There were 50 people there, at [the] most"

... the is normally omitted, it's almost always included if we add very as an intensifier...

"There were 50 people there, at the very most"

  • Thanks for stressing the difference in meaning in "ate (the) most"! But with abstract verbs like "love" or "matter", it's difficult to apply the same logic. And since "most" without the article is correct either way, I think I'm going to stick to that. – stillenat Jun 4 '13 at 3:46
  • @stillenat: I'm not sure you can apply "most" to abstract verbs with sense #2 above. I can only think of constructions like "We mostly love weddings" (which I suppose could mean either more than half of us love weddings, or we love more than half of all weddings). But I think you've made a wise decision - omit "the" every time and you shouldn't go far wrong. Some might not be keen on at very most in my final point, but it does validly occur. – FumbleFingers Jun 4 '13 at 15:43
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    This answer is well explained. "I am the most grateful" would in fact have a completely different meaning: "I am the person who is most grateful out of all the people who are grateful." – starsplusplus Feb 21 '14 at 10:06
  • In the first part you say: "informally, 'the' is often omitted", and in the second part you contradict that with "note that A1 is a 'very slightly informal' usage". I guess that's just a typo. But I really don't understand why "if the knave actually ate more than half (but not all) of the tarts, only A2 is correct". Wouldn't it still be true that the knave ate the largest in number or amount? So wouldn't A1 and A2 be both true, in two different senses? – Færd Apr 6 '16 at 12:08
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    @Færd: I think you're right about the typo. I don't recall my exact thought processes at the time, but looking at it now I'd say if the knave ate more than anyone else (but not more than half in total), then including the article in A1 in order to convey that would be a very slightly formal usage. As to your second point - again, strictly speaking you're right. I think I must have had an implicit if the speaker doesn't intend to mislead in mind. – FumbleFingers Apr 6 '16 at 12:38

In your example sentences either is correct, though simply using most without the is more idiomatic. Using the most rather than just most is only required in sentences like this one:

The most important thing you need to take with you on a camping trip is water.

That's because the most important thing is the subject; the the actually is paired with thing, I think, because it remains if we change the sentence to:

The thing you need to take with you on a camping trip is water.

But this is the only case I'm aware of where the most is required, not optional.

  • Thanks for pointing out that "most" without "the" is more idiomatic, because that's exactly what I'm currently working on. I'm trying to make my speech sound as idiomatic and natural as I possibly can. – stillenat Jun 4 '13 at 3:50

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