# Is something 'best possible' or 'the best possible?'

Which one is correct at the end of the sentence, best possible or the best possible?

In a science paper (not in a title), should one write

This constant is best possible

or

This constant is the best possible?

Example.

Theorem: every positive number is >0.

This theorem is (the) best possible. (Since you cannot write a number bigger than 0 instead of 0, that would make the theorem false.)

An example for non-mathematicians. Suppose we talk of hobbits, who are at most 4 feet tall. If Bilbo is exactly 4 feet tall, then would you say

Bilbo is the tallest possible

or

Bilbo is tallest possible?

• Hi, domotorp, and welcome to EL&U. "This constant is the best possible..." Possible + countable noun can take an indefinite article (a/some) but best necessitates a definite article. The best answer/the best outcome, etc. You might be interested in our sister site, ELL, which is a good site for basic English questions. Please have a look at the quick tour of EL&U and ELL to determine where you can best be helped! Commented Jun 23, 2014 at 3:32
• @medica: I totally agree with you but for some reason in almost every math paper they write it without the article... Commented Jun 23, 2014 at 3:34
• Ah, you didn't specify it was a math paper. They do have a unique language. We have mathematicians here. Wait for a bit; one will come along. :) Commented Jun 23, 2014 at 3:36
• @Kris: And could you please explain the difference? The intended meaning is that for larger constants some statement would not hold. Commented Jun 23, 2014 at 5:25
• @medica I think it most inconvenient when respondents tell OPs that their superlatives will be most grammatical when preceded by a definite article. Such a theory is best applicable with attributive adjectives. With predicative ones I think it's most unlikely. ;-) Commented Jun 23, 2014 at 18:51

As medica pointed out in comments, "Possible + countable noun can take an indefinite article (a/some) but best necessitates a definite article." So in everyday English one would only ever say "the best possible".

The mathematics link establishes a convention used by that particular author. It says:

"Best possible". "Best possible" is an adjective; it indicates sharpness. We write "This result is best possible", just as we would write "This result is sharp". Writing "This result is the best possible" says that this result is better or more valuable aesthetically than all other results in the world, which is not what is meant. The definite article should not be used here. Think of "best possible" as a technical term that is already a specific predicate adjective, so no definite article is needed.

Whether that convention is more widespread among other mathematicians, I can't say. I've never encountered it personally among numerous math/science/engineering classes.

Obviously scientific/technical fields make up technical terms all the time, but when you take words that have established meaning and use them in a completely counter-intuitive way, you're just begging to be misunderstood.

"Best possible" uses the superlative. Whether you include the definite article or not, it clearly implies that the result is the best among all possible results- which is completely the opposite of what the author supposedly wants to say.

• Why do you say this is completely the opposite of what the author supposedly wants to say? Mathematicians try to say that this is the best possible result you can prove. I have added an example to my question. Commented Jun 23, 2014 at 11:42
• @domotorp - In the quoted section, the author equates 'best possible' with 'sharp' and says it expressly does not mean 'better...than all other results in the world' (which is what the superlative means in everyday English).
– Lynn
Commented Jun 24, 2014 at 4:25
• Yes, but I don't agree with that. If I say "John is the tallest" after talking about a bunch of people, no one would think that I say John is the tallest in the world. Best possible is supposed to mean that in the given situation that result is the best possible. Commented Jun 24, 2014 at 16:32
• @domotorp - If you say "the tallest" then you're leaving it open... tallest in his class, tallest in America, tallest ever. But if you say "the tallest (or best) possible" then you're being a bit more specific. Now you're saying it's the best that was possible to achieve.
– Lynn
Commented Jun 25, 2014 at 6:18
• Suppose we talk of hobbits, who are at most 4 feet tall. If Bilbo is exactly 4 feet tall, then I think can say that Bilbo is the tallest possible. Commented Jun 26, 2014 at 3:21

The superlative form of adjectives is in fact very often used without any article at all. The time when this is most likely (please forgive me, no irony intended), is when the adjective is occurring as a predicative complement without a following noun.

• This is most convenient.
• John is tallest.

It is even more common when the particular times, events or situations in which X will be most or least likely/possible/convenient and so forth are specified afterwards:

• This is most/best/least possible when oxygen levels are very high.
• The leaves will be greenest, if the plant is well fed with some kind of plant food.

However, best possible in the example that you give seems to be a fixed phrase within the register of mathematical academia - as is pointed out in Lynn's answer. Used in this way, it seems to be the case that a best possible constant is a constant of a particular standard, quality or type, whereas the best possible constant is the most meritorious amongst a number of given constants.

• Idiomatically I must disagree that "best possible" is in the same category as "most convenient". I can find no concrete rule of grammar to point to, but it simply does not sound right to my ears.
– Lynn
Commented Jun 24, 2014 at 4:22
• I think that "most likely/convenient" is just a phrase for very likely/convenient, so they fall in a different category. You are absolutely right that if we have a condition, the article is often omitted. As this is not my case, I feel reluctant to follow an illogical convention... Commented Jun 24, 2014 at 16:28