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I have three items A, B, and C. A and B are of equal argumentative strength. C is of very weak argumentative strength.

Would I say "A and B are the stronger of the arguments." or "A and B are the strongest of the arguments."

So would the suffix compare the argumentative strength of the arguments (therefore, I would use -er since there are only two 'strength' options) or the arguments against each other (therefore, I would user -est since there are three items in the item list).

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  • I hope this is not too confusing. Additionally, I was not sure how to ask my question; I apologize if it has already been asked. I feel like I am over-thinking this.
    – Andrew
    Jun 24, 2015 at 16:26
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    The superlative is used when the comparitive won't suffice, i.e., when there are two or more lower quality instances of the nouns they modify. In this case, you only have one. A=B > C. Since C is the the only instance of a smaller degree, stronger isn't wrong here. However, since A and B both are stronger, C is the weakest.
    – Tushar Raj
    Jun 24, 2015 at 17:23
  • @Andrew In my opinion, you are overthinking it. Both would be equally valid.
    – ghoppe
    Jun 24, 2015 at 22:06
  • Related: english.stackexchange.com/questions/159297/… (duplicate?)
    – ghoppe
    Jun 24, 2015 at 22:07
  • @TusharRaj In common usage, the superlative is often used even if there are only two items to compare. People refer to the youngest child even if there are only two offspring.
    – ghoppe
    Jun 24, 2015 at 22:11

3 Answers 3

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In the situation where there are clearly A B and C available as options; saying either

"A and B are the stronger of the arguments."

or

"A and B are the strongest of the arguments."

Both unambiguously state that A and B are stronger than C (or "the strongest arguments"). Personally I'd go with the first, but it's a matter of style. Also I think the second flows better as:

"A and B are the strongest arguments."

Purely as a matter of style, as all three options in this case mean the same thing. Similarly, "Of the two apples, this is the larger" and "Of the two apples, this is the largest" really have little difference between them.

Bear in mind that neither of your sentences heavily stress the equal strength of A and B, just that they are both stronger than C. (It has an air or implication that they are both on roughly the same level with respect to C, as in "out of Ireland, Brazil and Morocco, Brazil and Morocco are the hotter Countries" but doesn't preclude that, say, B may be the stronger of A and B.)


As a side note, contrary to some answers here, there is nothing wrong with using a superlative to refer to a plural.

"Grandma, these are the best cookies I have ever tasted"

is fine, regardless of whether or not there is a better or worse cookie in the batch or whether they are all equally good.

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I think I would say A and B are each stronger than C.

I do not believe strongest has any place here, since it would appear A and B are of equal strength. There is not therefore a strongest among them.

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  • joint strongest?
    – Avon
    Jun 24, 2015 at 16:41
  • Possibly. But that is not how I would put it. If you wanted you could say A and B are of equal strength, but each stronger than C.. You could certainly say that C was the least strong.
    – WS2
    Jun 24, 2015 at 17:03
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Strength-wise, A and B are equal with C being the weakest

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