8

Is there any difference in usage between these two sentences?

  • Which do you like best?
  • Which do you like most?

I've read there is a slight difference in usage - a subtlety - and would like to hear what native speakers have to say about it in 2014.

5

I don't know what you've read, but I can give you a native speaker's take on it.

Which do you like best?

I would use the above to ask for someone's advice on which they preferred of three or more choices, where the 'ranking' might go from least preferred to best. (this one, not at all, these two are ok, this one is very nice, but this one I like best.) In other words, good < better < best.

Most seems to me to connote a larger sample from which to choose. It is also asking more (to my way of thinking) for shades of interpretations instead of an authoritative opinion. Best limits the choices and the answer seems final.

What kind of books do you like most?

I can see an answer like, I like sci-fi and mysteries.

However, I think that they are used fairly interchangeably.

2

This is what I've read on the subject:

"Which do you like best?" and "Which do you like most?" are both acceptable. The former is probably the more usual when applied to things and people that we like on account of some quality they possess, so that we think of one as being better than another, the latter when liking is more a matter of mere preference on our own part than an implied comparison between the qualities or characteristics of the things amongst which we have to choose: e.g. "Which would you like most, to write a best seller, to win a fortune on the football pools, or to rise to the top of your profession?"> 1. Current English Usage, Frederick T. Wood, Macmillan and Co ltd, London, 1961.

0

The grammatical truth is: no, they are NOT both correct! Only one is! You can follow that link to see why in detail - but basically, what it comes down to is that...

better, worse, best, worst are adjectives, which can qualify a noun.
more, less, most, least are adverbs, which can modify a verb, adjective, or another adverb.

When you like something, you don't like it good (adjective) - therefore you cannot like it better, best, worse or worst.

In practice though, most native speakers are either blissfully unaware of this distinction, or dismiss it as mere pedantry. So unless you're training to be a Grammar Nazi, assume they're equivalent.


TL;DR: "Which do you like most?" is acceptable to everyone, but some might object to "Which do you like best?" on grounds of strict grammar.

  • Is an elided choice a reasonable assumption? Which (of these options/dress/pair of shoes, etc.) do you like best? – anongoodnurse Jul 1 '14 at 22:17
  • I don't think "elided choice" is actually the explanation (I assumed you meant justification, which in context is a slightly different thing). Grammatically, even if you explicitly include an ordinary noun after which (a "pronoun" which validly acts as a "noun" anyway), you can't get away from the fact that best is being used adverbially to modify the verb to like. Which as I say is fine by me, but I often find not everyone is so accomodating as me in matters of grammatical correctness. – FumbleFingers Jul 1 '14 at 22:35
  • 3
    The best-laid plans of mice and men. . . . I’m sorry, but this notion that best is only an adjective not an adverb is pure horse-hockey: it’s bloody-minded hyper-corrective prescriptivist poppycock with no basis in reason nor scholarship. OED: “best adv. superlative of well. 1. With vbs. In the most excellent way, in the most eminent degree; in the most suitable manner, with the greatest advantage, to the fullest extent.” Dates from OE with a citation from King Ælfred, and has hardly abated since then. @medica, best is fine. I can give a million other fine examples. – tchrist Jul 1 '14 at 23:03
  • @ FumbleFingers I've followed your link. I've read it but I couldn't find who the author is, much less what his credentials are. There is a Rosangela Cricci at the bottom of the page but it doesn't look like she is the person who wrote the text. @medica I'm waiting for more answers from other members and then I will try to answer my own question based on the reference I have. – Centaurus Jul 1 '14 at 23:58
  • I have never heard of this rule before. It doesn't sound familiar at all. Also, people do use 'best' as an adverb: "He walked best". Does that sound wrong to you? Did you know of this rule before you answered? Is there another source for that rule (I ask because I doubt it). – Mitch Jul 7 '14 at 10:47

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