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Is it really a phrase? I found it in Tom Sawyer - "...and the most hospitable and much the most lavish in the matter of festivities that St Petersburg could boast..."

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    I think this is one of the lesser-known adverbial meanings of much to "almost." Commented Mar 15, 2015 at 4:40
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    Obviously it is “really a phrase”, since you found it in Tom Sawyer.
    – tchrist
    Commented Mar 15, 2015 at 4:42
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    Sure: it means something along the lines of “and rather more lavish” or “and by far the most lavish”.
    – tchrist
    Commented Mar 15, 2015 at 4:49
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    No, it isn't. I walk out of the discussion, like a confused customer!
    – Swami
    Commented Mar 15, 2015 at 5:00
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    That's an inevitable part of classic English literature, either it's broken or it's 'thou-thee-thy'. Just saying.
    – Swami
    Commented Mar 15, 2015 at 10:11

2 Answers 2

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"Much the <superlative>" is relatively uncommon, but nonetheless well attested.

Not many dictionaries seem to mention it explicitly; one that does is Macmillan Dictionary, which includes it in sense 2 ("used for emphasizing that someone or something is a lot bigger, better, worse etc"):

much the biggest/best etc (=a lot bigger, better etc than all the others): I got lots of lovely presents, but yours was much the nicest.

[link]

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    That’s OED sense 2c. There’s no accounting for lesser dictionaries. :)
    – tchrist
    Commented Mar 15, 2015 at 5:03
  • I suspect James McLeod has a point, too -- see the comment at OP.
    – Kris
    Commented Mar 15, 2015 at 5:34
  • @Kris He may have a point, but he’s wrong. Stop trolling.
    – tchrist
    Commented Mar 15, 2015 at 15:21
  • @tchrist We could be just as wrong as anyone else. Let's not forget that.
    – Kris
    Commented Mar 16, 2015 at 5:42
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According to Michael Swan's Practical English Usage, this structure: much/quite + superlative noun phrase is mostly British. It is like by far+ superlative noun phrase. Quite in this structure means absolutely. For example: He is quite the most stupid man I've ever met.

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