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Is the superlative of the adjective sparse, sparsest or most sparse? Can both be used? If not, then which one is correct?

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3 Answers

Sparsest would be the correct form. Nevertheless, a quick peek in a dictionary could have provided you with this answer.

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Your link is missing. –  user21497 Apr 10 '13 at 2:18
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@Bill Franke I did not know that a link was necessary for every answer, whether or not one is requested. As a link has not been requested, I shan't be providing one, especially for a question for which the answer is so extremely simple to find. –  4rkain3 Apr 10 '13 at 2:23
    
I see that I misread your ambiguous answer. I thought that you had intended to provide the OP with a link when you said "this answer" instead of "the answer". Sorry about that. You don't have to provide a link with every answer, you're right. –  user21497 Apr 10 '13 at 2:30
    
Ah. I see now. Thank you for that clarification. –  4rkain3 Apr 10 '13 at 2:31
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They're actually both correct depending on context. Google Ngram Viewer shows a substantial number of hits for "most sparse", e.g., "the AEC algorithm outcome is the distance between points in the most sparse clusters".

While the normal superlative is "sparsest", in a list of superlatives, you will probably want to use parallel structure so that all are in the same form, e.g., "X is the most interesting, traditional, and sparse of the options".

"Correct" is often a relative concept, especially with natural language.

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The word sparsest is the correct choice of expression. The number of syllable in the adjective (or adverb) determines if the superlative should end with the suffix "-est" or begin with the adverb "most". When it has only one syllable (e.g. sparse), or two but ends with the letter "y" (e.g. happy), the suffix "-est" should be used to form the superlative (e.g. sparsest, happiest), or else we use the adverb "most" (e.g. most peaceful, most horrific).

most

forming the superlative of adjectives and adverbs, especially those of more than one syllable: the most important event of my life | he was the most ambitious of all

Note: there are cases where the rules above do not apply. (e.g. good & best, bad & worst)

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