In most russian grammar books there is a rule saying that definite article must be used with superlative adjectives. However from time to time I see people using indefinite article. For example, a title of the film "A Most Wanted Man". Can somebody explain this?

  • 2
    It varies from the fixed phrase, and therefore draws attention, which is the point of a title. Also, there is a secondary intensive sense of most which just means very, e.g, That's a most attractive colour on you. Aug 31 '14 at 17:28
  • 1
    It's a good rule of thumb; it usually, but not always, makes sense not to use an indefinite article with a superlative. 'A highest mountain', 'a biggest dog', 'a fastest car' would be extremely unusual. But especially with 'most', the construction can work and be very idiomatic: 'a most desirable dress', 'a most delicious meal' ... You can consider 'a most ...' to be the equivalent of 'an extremely ...' here. With 'A Most Wanted Man', the usage sounds a little off-key, quirky: that adds punch to the title. Aug 31 '14 at 17:33
  • I'm not sure I understand the Russian grammar rule. Would books that say that "the" must be used with a superlative adjective prohibit a sentence such as "It's a perfect day"?
    – Sven Yargs
    Sep 1 '14 at 6:48
  • @SvenYargs Is perfect a superlative adjective? It seems like the rule is referring to adjectives (or adverb+adjective phrases) that indicate the extreme of a range, such as best, worst, or most XXX. perfect is an absolute, not the end of a range (something is either perfect or it isn't).
    – Barmar
    Sep 1 '14 at 7:14

Generally, no. As mentioned in the comments, phrases like "a tallest mountain" or "a biggest dog" do not sound sensible.

However, the use of "most" as an adverb does not necessarily imply the superlative; it can be merely intensive. From Merriam-Webster on most:

1: to the greatest or highest degree ... (the most challenging job he ever had)

2: to a very great degree (was most persuasive)

The first definition implies the superlative, but the second definition is merely an intensifier. The phrase "a most wanted man" (by the second definition) is equivalent in meaning to "a very wanted man".

  • Or more simply, here most wanted is an adjective describing one who is on the Most Wanted list.
    – Bohemian
    May 17 '18 at 6:51

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