# Which season do you like (better / best), spring or winter? [duplicate]

Which season do you like (better / best), spring or winter?

I was told the answer is better, but why is that so?

Both better and best would make sense, I think.

• nevermind, I re-read. Dec 3, 2014 at 8:46
• If this wasn't a multiple choice question, I'd pick "Which do you like more". Dec 3, 2014 at 11:37
• I think technically, if you write "best" you have a grammatically correct question, but the meaning is different than if you write "better" (one of the answers explains the difference); and the question with "best" is too likely to be misinterpreted (or to be unanswerable if one interprets it correctly), so you shouldn't ask it. Dec 3, 2014 at 14:18

This is actually an interesting question.

The point is that you are given a choice between two items out of a group of four.

Suppose the season I like best is summer, I could not answer the question which season do you like best, spring or winter? in the expected way, by choosing one of the two options!

I think that in practice, many speakers will not make this subtle distinction. But if you look at it in more detail, when you ask about the best liked season, you should not limit the choices — you risk that the actual answer is not in those choices.

Suppose, indeed, my favourite season is summer:

Which season do you like best? Summer.
Which season do you like better, spring or winter? Spring, because it is more like summer!
Which season do you like best, spring or winter? Neither! I told you I like summer best!

Again, for many people there probably is hardly a difference (if any), but the same issue does of course arise in questions like:

(?)What fruit do you like best, apples or pears?
(?)What is the tallest building, the Eiffel tower or the Sears tower?
(?)What is your favourite drink, beer or wine?

If I like bananas best of all fruits, the Burj Khalifa is the tallest building, and whiskey is my favourite drink, then the suggested options are all wrong. Chances are that what the asker actually wanted to know was:

What do you like better, apples or pears?
Which building is taller, the Eiffel tower or the Sears tower?
What would you like to drink, beer or wine?

Since they can get me either apples or pears and like to take into account my preference, or they are writing a piece comparing the two mentioned towers (and it is irrelevant whether there are taller ones) and they have beer and wine available and want to know what I prefer, not what my actual favourite drink is.

• What if it was three out of a possible four, e.g. "Which season do you like (better / best): spring, summer or winter?". To me, "best" would be best since it's less open to misinterpretation - I could imagine people replying "Better than what?" or "I like spring and summer better than Winter" or "Better than Autumn? I like all of those better than Autumn". Dec 3, 2014 at 13:20
• You make an interesting point. It may prove interesting to consider how this would play out if correspondingly dilemmatical questions were presented for other small finite and well-known sets. For example “Which do you like better, Monday or Friday?" or “Which do you like better, May or September?" or “Which do you like better, your mother or your grandmother?”. I (somewhat) feel that when presented with two choices, the comparative degree comes more (not most :) naturally than the superlative does, even when other unnamed members of the presumed set category exist. Feel free to incorporate.
– tchrist
Dec 3, 2014 at 15:33

Better is a comparative, best is a superlative. A choice of 2, should prefer the comparative. 3 or more then the superlative is used.

The question is perhaps better presented : Which season do you like more. Spring or Winter? Which season do you like most? (implied all seasons are candidates) see "Like something more" or "like something better"

The use of "best" (even if the choice is between 2 things) seems awkward. "Which do you like best: salted or unsalted butter?" It should be better BECAUSE there is only a choice of 2 - not because there may be other choices. (Like, if you have 2 sons, the first-born is the elder, not the eldest.)

• If you say to someone "my eldest son", it is quite clear you're talking about your oldest son, so I think that usage is correct. If you say "elder", and the listener doesn't know how many sons you have, I think you should still say "the elder of my two sons". It's not strictly necessary, but many people may not otherwise grasp the nuanced meaning. Dec 3, 2014 at 12:56