We have two phrases structures:

  1. 'the nicest in my school'
  2. 'the cleanest in my house'

These phrases can act as nouns or adverbs:

  1. 'He is the nicest in my school.' - noun phrase.
  2. 'She cleaned the cleanest in my house.' - noun phrase -or- adverb phrase. Meanings (noun phrase: "She cleaned the cleanest [omitted thing] in my house; adverb phrase: "She cleaned most, comparatively, [to the other omitted things] in my house.").

So these are the disambiguations I suggest:

  1. 'She cleaned cleanest in my house.'
  2. 'She cleaned the cleanest, in my house.'
  3. 'She cleaned the-cleanest-in-my-house.'

Isn't 1. a better disambiguity to simply say she, herself, is the best cleaner? Because in 2., 'the cleanest' can also be a noun phrase and in 3. 'the-cleanest-in-my-house' is in emulation of another person?

About 1: 'in the house' is a location set by the adverb so there is an ambiguity; however, when setting groups by the adverb (i.e., 'of my house'), 1. is sufficient, right?


Additional disambiguities:

  1. She cleaned, the cleanliest in my house. - Uses allusion to suggest that the subject, herself, is the cleanliest person.
  2. She cleaned [the] cleanliest in my house. - Shows that 'the' is unnecessary. Perhaps, for example, it is added for euphonic purposes.
  • I noticed this ambiguity occurs in multiple ways: a) the verb may be either transitive or intransitive; b) the verb may be either causitive or non-causitive. – Wolfpack'08 Feb 19 '14 at 21:09
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    I would suggest to edit the title to make more concrete, perhaps: "Disambiguation of cleanest / the cleanest / the cleanest in my house". It'll help get more attention. – Nico Feb 26 '14 at 5:58
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    I haven't seen before the third use "She cleaned the-cleanest-in-my-house". Is it something you propose here, or other people use it too? – Nico Feb 26 '14 at 6:04
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    And the second use "She cleaned the cleanest, in my house", I would say, is clearer if rearranged as "In my house, she cleaned the cleanest" – Nico Feb 26 '14 at 6:09
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    @Nico About hyphenated phrases: I've been told that they were originally used to create adverbs, so they're considered adverbs in standard form. "She has a such-and-so way of tucking her shirt in," for example. It's like using '~ly'. The ambiguity falls to the wind because '~ly' sufficed words are adverbial, right (ah, that's wrong, in many cases)? As per your last statement: I feel the clarity isn't complete. Moving 'in my house' to the beginning ensures 'in the house' as the location; on the other hand, the article-containing phrase may still modify the verb as an object or an adverb. – Wolfpack'08 Feb 26 '14 at 8:02

I'm still straggling to grasp what disambiguation this question seeks, but it touches a number of topics I would like to discuss:

  1. Noun phrases versus adverbial phrases
  2. Omission of [the] in the use of superlatives
  3. Ambiguity

1. Noun phrases versus adverbial phrases

StoneyB discusses here the terminology prepositional phrase versus preposition phrase and I think it's worth reading. Your question uses the terms noun phrase and adverbial phrase as two opposed terms, but this is not necessary the case. Both phrases:

  • the nicest in my school

  • the cleanest in my house

are noun phrases because the main word in the phrase (nicest and cleanest) is a noun. However, if one looks at the function of these phrases within a sentence, then:

  • He is the nicest in my school

is a subject complement because it attaches an attribute to the subject. And:

  • She cleaned the cleanest in my house

is an adverbial complement because it complements the verb by describing how she cleaned.

2. Omission of [the] in the use of superlatives

phenry discusses here that when using the superlative the is frequently omitted but implied (e.g., "I like this one [the] best").

If I understand your question correctly, you argue this may be a source of ambiguity. I'm not sure how.

3. Ambiguity

Your question doesn't describe how this ambiguity works, but let me guess, you argue that in the sentence She cleaned the cleanest in my house it is possible to interpret:

  1. the cleanest in my house as a single adverbial complement, i.e. she cleaned in the cleanest way that is possible to clean your house.

  2. the cleanest and in my house as two separate adverbial complements, i.e. she cleaned in your house and she did it in the cleanest possible way.

As you see the difference in meaning is so subtle that I would argue both interpretations convey the same meaning and there is no need for desambiguation.

  • The disambiguity is due to omission. "the cleanest" acts not as (1) an adverb that modifies the transitive verb; more naturally, "the cleanest" acts as (2) an object/noun that transfers to the verb. Case 1 (the case you describe): "She cleaned cleanest." Case 2 (the case you're missing): "She cleaned the thing which is the cleanest." "the cleanest" being a common, shortened form. Naturally disambiguous: "I fought all the best men."/'At length, I fought against the best [men], and I won.' As opposed to: "I fought best of all the men."/'In short, I, myself, fought best [among the men].' – Wolfpack'08 Feb 26 '14 at 23:54
  • Another good example is: 'I pick the best.' In this sense, do you have the best style of taking? Like, you can take the most because you're a good taker? Or do you usually take the best item? There's greater depth ugh meaning in the adverbial case, but naturally you assume it's the nomial case. – Wolfpack'08 Feb 27 '14 at 4:05
  • Now, I understood. I think I pick the best is a much better example. I completely missed this ambiguity in the example She cleaned the cleanest in my house. It never occured to me that the cleanest in my house could be interpreted as the cleanest thing in my house – Nico Feb 27 '14 at 10:29

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