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I am reviewing an article, and the author uses the phrase

... this algorithm achieves the most superior fairness ...

Initially I thought the phrase is not correct, just like saying that something is more better than something, but I did a google search and got more than a million hits (using quotes).

So my question is: is the use of "most superior" ever correct? If not, why not?

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possible duplicate of Are the rules regarding absolute modifiers too absolute? –  FumbleFingers Dec 12 '12 at 18:39
@FumbleFingers No, this is a double-superlative. It isn't like saying most unique. –  tchrist Dec 12 '12 at 18:52
Incidentally, even if the construction were permissible, Iit would have to be *greatest superior fairness –  TimLymington Dec 12 '12 at 20:12
Is it possible that "superior fairness" is a technical term? For example there could be two metrics "superior fairness" and "inferior fairness". –  donothingsuccessfully Dec 12 '12 at 20:36
@donothingsuccessfully From my experience on the subject, "superior fairness" is not a term by itself. You measure the fairness of the algorithm, using a formula called a fairness index (that usually gives a value from 0 to 1). The higher this value is, the more fair the outcome (the resource is shared more equally). Thus, an algorithm can perform better than another one in terms of fairness, or equivalently achieve better fairness (or superior fairness) than another algorithm. –  voth Dec 14 '12 at 16:22
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4 Answers

up vote 1 down vote accepted

Yes, most superior is incorrect: English forbids double-superlatives.

That's because superior itself is already an absolute superlative form (well, or absolute comparative; in any event, it is already inflected by degree).

It's like using more or most on better or best. These are therefore all wrong, and sound ungrammatical to the native ear:

  • *more better
  • *most better
  • *more best
  • *most best
  • *more superior
  • *most superior
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Thanx. Do you have any explanation for the large number of pages that use that phrase? –  voth Dec 12 '12 at 18:55
@Voth Illiteracy? Non-native speakers? –  tchrist Dec 12 '12 at 18:59
The phrase gets over 100,000 hits on Google books; none look like they have been penned by non-natives or illiterates. The two-word phrase seems rather common in anatomy, as in: "In the most superior aspect of the falx, the dural sheath separates to form the superior sagittal sinus," and, "As one proceeds into the hilum, the upper lobe branches of the pulmonary artery are the most superior hilar structures," although there are some other uses, too, like "Further, the most superior science — the one that is superior to any subordinate science..." (which comes from Aristotle). –  J.R. Dec 12 '12 at 21:22
@J.R.: yes, there certainly are contexts where the phrase is legitimate; your first two mean (literally) 'uppermost'. There are borderline cases, like a strained translation of a difficult Greek word. And there are places where the author can't be bothered to avoid a double superlative. –  TimLymington Dec 12 '12 at 21:41
@J.R. The rather rarefied use of superior to mean upper is not what we are talking about, but if it were, than uppermost is just fine. The problem is that saying that someone or something is “more superior” as in “more better” sounds completely ridiculous. –  tchrist Dec 13 '12 at 1:59
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Superior can be used in an absolute sense, meaning either 'pre-eminent' or 'snobbish'. If used so, it can obviously have a comparative and superlative: there was a verse in Punch about one of the Viceroys of India, starting 'My name is George Nathaniel Curzon/ I am a most superior person'. I think your author is trying for this and failing. (For what it's worth, I also took it as 'more better' when I read it.)

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+1. Quite right. 'My cheeks are pink, my hair is sleek, / I dine at Blenheim twice a week.' –  Barrie England Dec 12 '12 at 19:24
Grammatically, in favor of this answer I analyze it as I don't think 'superior' is a superlative or copmarative (as it might be in Latin). 'That car is superior than this car.' and ' That car is the superior of them all' are not grammatical. It is absolute in meaning, however. But, to add a twist, 'most' is not trying to make a superlative out of an adjective. 'Most' is an adverbial intensifier, e.g synonymous with 'to a much greater degree', that is, how superior it is is well beyond the 2nd best. –  Mitch Dec 12 '12 at 22:32
@Mitch: well yes, that's why it's 'a most superior person' not 'the most' (the point the original author seems to have missed). –  TimLymington Dec 12 '12 at 22:41
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I think it all depends on the context in which it is used. If used in a euphemistic or humorous manner, I would say it's fine. But otherwise, "superior" alone should suffice.

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No it is for a scientific conference publication. So in this case it is not correct. –  voth Dec 12 '12 at 18:51
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Sounds like whoever wrote the paper may have a poor command of written english, notwithstanding their scientific contributions. Even "superior fairness" alone is awkward. "Most superior fairness" sounds self-important and is most utmostly incorrect.

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I think you might be jumping to conclusions, and I wouldn't judge someone's command of English based on one excerpt from one sentence. Algorithms are often evaluated based on fairness. If 10 fair algorithms are evaluated, 5 might be judged to have "superior fairness." After further analysis, there might be one deemed to be "most fair," but I don't have huge heartburn with "most superior fairness" in a context such as queuing theory. –  J.R. Dec 12 '12 at 21:49
@J.R. Superior is a rather pretentious word if somebody thinks that most superior fairness has any sense at all, let alone one that improves about best fairness. –  tchrist Dec 13 '12 at 2:01
@tchrist: in the context of algorithm analysis, superior doesn't strike me as a particularly pretentious word; to my ears, it simply means "performed better." But I'll accept that not all readers would necessarily share that outlook; this is a case where there might be two valid opinions. In fact, thanks to your comment, I might be less likely to use that word in that context in the future, opting for something like "performed better" instead. –  J.R. Dec 13 '12 at 9:01
I'm not judging, merely making a judgement-call as to the source. English is a second language for me. OP's sentence struck me as being written by someone not well practised in english. Perhaps @OP could enlighten us as to the source of the paper. –  Chris Dec 13 '12 at 22:05
Unfortunately I cannot share the manuscript, since it is still under review, and considered confidential. However, a larger context that uses the phrase is: Impact of QM schemes: XXXXXX achieves the most superior fairness, regardless of the competing TCP types and their RTTs, without sacricing the link utilization. By contrast, YYYYYY and ZZZZZZ have poor fairness. –  voth Dec 14 '12 at 16:14
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