Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I've recently come across a novel called A most wanted man, after which being curious I found a TV episode called A most unusual camera.

Could someone shed some light on how to use "a most" and whether it has anything to do with "the most"?

share|improve this question

2 Answers 2

"Most" in this context means "very." As in "a very wanted man." It functions as a "superlative."

share|improve this answer
I think it's a somewhat dated/quaint usage. There's Paul Simon's 1965 song A Most Peculiar Man, and John le Carré's spy novel mentioned by OP. But the best advice to anyone unfamiliar with the form is probably just to read most as very, and avoid actually using it at all. –  FumbleFingers Oct 8 '12 at 16:08
I agree that the usage is dated; it sounds precious or pompous in a modern context. –  itsbruce Oct 8 '12 at 17:30
+1. It can also mean "almost", which is also somewhat dated/quaint. –  ruakh Oct 8 '12 at 17:33

This is a special kind of absolute superlative. The OED gives as its sense 2 of most adv. the following:

As an intensive superlative qualifying adjs. and advs.: In the greatest possible degree.
For the ceremonial titles, Most Christian, Most Honourable, Most Noble, Most Reverend, etc., see those adjs.

I don’t think it gets used all that very much anymore. One of the examples is:

1710 Hearne Collect. (O.H.S.) II. 351 ― A most vile, stinking Whigg.

share|improve this answer
I agree it's not used all that much any more. –  FumbleFingers Oct 8 '12 at 16:18

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.