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I tried to find a single word that means "most important", but I couldn't. I want it to be able to express what's missing below:

If you get hurt, the _ thing to do is to stay calm.

It would need to describe something as being the absolute, single most important thing as opposed to just very important.

I did find the word "quintessential", but I think that word also has another meaning which is used more frequently.

I thought about making up my own, but I couldn't find a prefix that means "most".


I feel kind of silly, but I think I have been looking for a word based on a concept that doesn't exist in English. I was looking for a word that could never be used to describe two things as both being the most important. I think some of these words, like 'imperative,' express necessity as opposed to importance, but I may be wrong. The word 'key' expresses importance, but it, like 'important,' could be used to refer to multiple things. The two most important players are Sam and Ashley. The two key players are Sam and Ashley. I was thinking of a word that would describe importance as 'best' describes 'goodness,' but I'm realizing that that doesn't really make sense because even the word 'best,' though I think it tends to often describe only one thing, is often used to describe two things. The two best players are Sam and Ashley.

I guess, with the superlative, if you take any adjective and put the noun it's modifying in a singular form, it implies that that noun is the single strongest possessor of that adjective. I could just say "The important thing to do is to stay calm," and I think that would imply that that is the single most important thing to do because the word 'thing' is singular.

I think the fact that the same word can be used to describe the single strongest possessor of a trait (the tallest person) and multiple strongest possessors of a trait (one of the tallest people) kind of rubs me wrong. If anyone's curious, I was thinking of inventing the word 'monobest' or 'unibest' to mean single best. This way, you couldn't say "one of the monobest" because 'mono' means one, and something can't be both both multiple and one. Similarly, 'monotant' or 'unitant' could mean single most important (I've shortened the word 'important').

Thank you all, and sorry if this question was misleading.

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first, chief, preeminent –  jlovegren Apr 3 at 23:55
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You didn't think essential was a good choice, after you considered quintessential? –  Jim Apr 4 at 0:49
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The choice essential is much better here than quintessential as the latter, here unnecessarily, communicates the idea "typical" alongside "important". –  miercoledi Apr 4 at 2:26
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@Kevin - you mean most important? :) –  Jeffrey Kemp Apr 4 at 5:18
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Paramount does not mean important. It means "highest". The correct phrase for "most important" is "most important", that is an adjective in superlative form. –  James Apr 4 at 16:38

16 Answers 16

In the context If you get hurt, the --- thing to do is to stay calm, you can use key.

In other contexts, prime, preeminent, or vital can be used.

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+1 for key. That fits the example sentence very nicely whilst expressing the "most important" thing very well, I think. –  starsplusplus Apr 4 at 12:00
    
The word key seems to be the only single-word answer so far that fits to answer the question perfectly. –  miercoledi Apr 9 at 12:51

"Paramount" might be the word you're looking for.

E.g.

The paramount thing to do is go back to your family and tell several of them what has happened.

According to context, you can also do pretty well with the colloquial "number one:"

I thought the number one thing to do is to not join. That way they can't have access to all your personal info including email addresses...

But the word that works best for your example is a simple "first."

If your baby has been hurt, the first thing to domis is to get immediate medical attention.

If you get hurt, the first thing to do is to stay calm.

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I don't like "utmost" or "paramount" here, they really need more concrete nouns. "Number one" is not bad, but I think "first" is definitely the best option. –  Kevin Apr 4 at 3:34
    
'Utmost' is used with relevant concrete nouns in its literal locative sense (Being or situated at the most distant limit or point; farthest: the utmost tip of the peninsula) or relevant conceptual abstract nouns in its metaphorical sense (Of the highest or greatest degree, amount, or intensity; most extreme: a matter of the utmost importance) (definitions & examples from AHDEL). –  Edwin Ashworth Apr 4 at 19:41
    
@EdwinAshworth Thanks for pointing out. What happened is I was searching my mind for "foremost", but couldn't seem to find it and found "utmost" instead. When "foremost" finally "occurred to me," it already was too late. ;-) –  Elian Apr 4 at 19:58
    
I believe paramount is the best word, other than using "most important". Google defines it as "more important than anything else; supreme". And merriam-webster defines it as "very important: of highest rank or importance". –  jmstoker Apr 5 at 1:45
    
I disagree "paramount thing to do" is peculiar. It would be more usual to say "it is of paramount importance to". But this wordiness surely negates any benefit over the original "most important". –  Ollie Ford Apr 5 at 22:51

How about crucial: "Extremely significant or important: a crucial problem; vital to the resolution of a crisis; decisive."

critical: Indispensable; essential.

essential: Basic or indispensable; necessary

vital: necessary to the continuation of life; life-sustaining:

It was critical that he stop them for if he did not the battle was sure to be lost.

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I think some of these words are just stronger synonyms for 'important' that don't express something as being the absolute, single most important thing in a group. I was looking, I guess, for a word that if you put the word 'most' in front of it, you would be being redundant because the 'most' is already implied, like how you can't say 'most best'. –  Temme Apr 4 at 0:30
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@Temme - one would not put most in front of critical, essential,or crucial, unless they were misusing the words. these words alreadt carry the connotation of most important. –  medica Apr 4 at 0:35
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@Temme: the difference is that "important" is relative while "essential" is an absolute. Something is essential or it is not. Now, there could in theory be two essential things, but if something is "the essential thing", then by implication it is the only essential thing and hence is also the most important thing since it is the only thing so important as to be essential. –  Steve Jessop Apr 4 at 12:34
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@Temme - here's an example of what I'm trying to say. Food, water and air are essential for life. You can't say that food is more essential than air. Without food, we would all die, regardless how plentiful water and air were. Without water, we would all die, regardless how plentiful food and air were. Without air, we would all die, regardless how plentiful water and food were. A good diet is not essential for life. In some cases, it is essential for health (but far from all.) I hope this makes it clearer. :) Essential means it's absolutely necessary, there is nothing more important. –  medica Apr 4 at 18:42

foremost would fit.

adv. So as to be most important.

adj., adv. first in place, rank, importance, etc

There is the phrase "first and foremost" also, that emphasizes this:

first to be dealt with and most important.

First and foremost, I think you should work harder on your biology. Have this in mind first and foremost: Keep smiling!


Note: You can check example usages in Google Books as well.

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If you get hurt, the primary thing to do is to stay calm. Also foremost or paramount.

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The area to explore here begins at the word superlative..

..a word which is often used as the title of awards given to groups of people at era ends, such as at the end of high school for yearbook purposes; in that context, "superlative" awards may contain categories such as "most likely to succeed" or "best hair" or "least likely to harm a fly" etcetera.

Basically, the ideation implied by superlative involves seeking out, for purposes of identification, the most extreme end of a spectrum involving two trivial opposites such as tall and short or desirable and undesirable.

All other answers supplied began at this concept and ended with a trivial selection by the author of the response.

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@medica Is superlative not an answer? In any case, do note that moderators are not just robots and we will convert non-answers to comments whenever that is the appropriate course of action. `@miercoledi If you feel another user is being rude, the best thing to do is to flag that comment; arguing publicly rarely leads anywhere good. –  waiwai933 Apr 9 at 11:06
    
I suppose most important or best, along with some of the other above-suggested non-specific superlative adjectives, is closer to a straightforward answer; it might be that I'll do better providing an example or two alongside theory, instead of theory alone, when answering such questions. (thank you for your wise words @waiwai933, all helpful & taken to heart. will remove this parenthetical shortly, wasn't sure where else to write this thankyou) –  miercoledi Apr 9 at 12:33

I would go with BEST.

If you get hurt, the best thing to do is to stay calm.

But also, PRINCIPAL, MAIN, or INDISPENSABLE could work.

If you get hurt, the principal thing to do is to stay calm.

If you get hurt, the main thing to do is to stay calm.

If you get hurt, the indispensable thing to do is to stay calm.

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indispensable fits perfectly! –  Roikka Apr 4 at 11:50
    
This is the best answer in my opinion, because it's the best. ... Best is a superlative. Best = most important. –  Tom Pace Apr 6 at 2:57

You could use crux of the matter to be a little fancy.

But I would just go with number one.

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Imperative.

It is imperative that you stay calm.

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Thought someone would have put this, but the first word that came into my head was "priority".

Priority

highest or higher in importance, rank, privilege, etc.: a priority task.

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The example sentence was the _ thing to do is to stay calm. You can't say "the priority thing to do". –  starsplusplus Apr 4 at 11:59

I can't yet comment, or upvote, but the single best answer is imperative.

Imperative.

It is imperative that you stay calm.

as suggested by drukenwagoner.

Quintessential is normally used to define something as representing the 'purest' form, e.g. "quintessentially evil"

Critical (medica) is a strong contender, as a thing that is critical must be done before anything else, otherwise the following actions will fail, though usually associated with an action, not a state of mind.

First (Nourished Gourmet) and foremost (Spehro Pefhany) are both ordinal statements, indicating that a transient step should be taken, where as the state of mind referenced by the OP is a persistent theme.

Crux of the matter doesn't fit as the OP is not trying to produce a clarifying statement of a convoluted argument or conversation, there is no "point" to be restated for clarity.

Indispensable is a statement of necessity not importance. Things can be indispensable yet trivial, due to their availability.

My own suggestion would be vital, as in "it is vital your organs remain connected and inside your body".

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+1 Yes, this is a great answer. Many of the other answers touch only on the action needing to be done immediately and not necessarily the importance of the action. The other answers still work because the importance is implied, but imperative is much more explicit. –  Dryden Long Apr 4 at 18:15

Imperative - of vital importance, crucial

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If you get hurt, the _ thing to do is to stay calm.

Most important and best are both superlatives, the fact that the former consists of two words does not lessen its greatest in quality. Nothing else which may be suggested is more important than staying calm. On the other hand, "monobest" as you described it

I was thinking of inventing the word 'monobest' or 'unibest' to mean single best. This way, you couldn't say "one of the monobest" because 'mono' means one, and something can't be both both multiple and one.

might be potentially harmful.
Imagine being seriously injured, "the "monobest" thing is to keep calm", mono- implies that nothing else is necessary, the act of staying calm is the one thing to do. Why do anything else afterwards? Instead, there might be several things one could do in a similar situation; call an ambulance, bandage the wound, place an ice pack on the injury and so on.

You do not want to exclude other courses of actions, there has to be a list of some sorts. In other words, because the superlative form, most important, is used for comparing one thing with every other thing in that group, it fits perfectly well in your sentence.

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I like your pointing out that two words does not lessen quality here, regarding most important. Also, your neologism suggestions are very interesting. I've just spent a little while trying to find an existing word close to monobest/unibest & found nothing; for a moment I thought I'd coined cruciality to be used in a similar fashion to that of necessity but meaning the most important thing but actually cruciality already means a state of urgency so that's moot. I'm going to keep looking for a one-word answer, but truly, as you say, most important does the job. –  miercoledi Apr 9 at 12:46

Good suggestions here already, especially "paramount", "foremost", and "primary" IMHO.
I'd just like to add "pivotal" to the growing list.

piv·ot·al

/ˈpivətl/
adjective

  1. of crucial importance in relation to the development or success of something else.
    "the alliance that played a pivotal role in the revolution"
    synonyms: central, crucial, vital, critical, focal, essential, key, decisive
    "Japan's pivotal role in the world economy"

"Pivotal" appeals to the mechanical, physical sense of a rotational axis, which occupies a single point. Around this point, parts may connect that are otherwise independently mobile, or a rotating body's center of mass may exist. Thus the word implies a sort of unique, decisive importance that isn't value-laden or hyperbolic, but rather neutral and pragmatic.

As such, it might even sound a little unnatural in your intended context:

If you get hurt, the pivotal thing to do is to stay calm.

Yet this matter-of-fact sensibility might be useful, especially if you wish to make a clear and practical point without appealing to emotion, as with more positive or alarming alternatives.
It seems that emotional arousal is the problem at hand, after all.

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In the context, and digging deeper into what makes one thing more important than the other, consider 'vital'.

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Colloquial and short, but I think "top" would do very nicely

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