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the + superlative adverb

English grammar help. Grammar questions from ESL learners

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the + superlative adverb

Postby tkay » Sat Oct 23, 2004 3:45 pm

He jumped the highest (of all the boys in the class).
Our team plays the best (of all the teams in the league).
They sing the most sweetly (of all the choirs I have heard).

The examples are from http://www.fortunecity.com/bally/durrus ... mch25.html.

Are the 'the's' necessary? How can they be justified before adverbs? Please explain. Thanks. --- tk
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Postby Alan » Sun Oct 24, 2004 11:18 am

Yes, they are all necessary.
There are two types of superlative: the forms with 'the' and those without. The difference between them is subtle but significant: the former denotes comparison between one entity and others, while the latter denotes comparison between one manifestation and another of the same entity.

Thus, we would say

He speaks French THE BEST of all the boys in the class.

to compare his performance with that of his peers, while we would say

He speaks French BEST when he's been drinking red wine.

to compare his performance in one situation with his own in another.

The examples above involve adverbials, but precisely the same difference applies to adjectival superlatives.
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