In the following quotes, the word "slightest" has the indefinite article "a". Are these grammatically incorrect?

A Mother's Secret by Scarlet Wilson

"So what do you think?" He spun around in his chair until he faced her, leaning forward, his elbows on his knees, giving her a slightest glimpse of his dark curled hair at the base of his throat.

About the author; “Scarlet Wilson wrote her first story aged 8 and has never stopped.... Scarlet lives on the West Coast of Scotland...”

Ulverton by Adam Thorpe

This room grows so tedious and fusty. Because I have a slightest of fevers I am to be confined a further week upon the end of the month.

Wikipedia has an article about the author

I posted a similar question on English Language for Learners:
I've never seen a dumbest girl like this

Users said these examples were grammatically incorrect, but I am not fully convinced since the authors are native English speakers.

  • 1
    If you want a native speaker's opinion, the first one is absolutely fine (although it would be fine with the as well), but the second sounds a little bit wrong to me. Commented Mar 20, 2016 at 11:52
  • I was under the impression that posting the same question to both ELL and ELU is highly discouraged if not disallowed. This user has done this before, when he was 'not convinced' (or was it 'not agreed with'?). If the OP is not satisfied with the answer he received on ELL he can post a bounty there. This cross posting is counterproductive to having two sites. Commented Mar 20, 2016 at 12:26
  • @PeterShor Can you explain in which situations it is grammatically correct to use an indefinite article with a superlative? Every grammar reference I've seen says to use the definite. For example: learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/en/english-grammar/….
    – ColleenV
    Commented Mar 20, 2016 at 12:27
  • @ColleenV: Use the definite. It means exactly the same thing, it's used much, much more often, and it's never wrong. Commented Mar 20, 2016 at 12:28
  • 1
    Keep in mind that in older usage the superlative (slightest, most slight) can stand in for an intensive (very slight); e.g. a most respectable gentleman, a most exquisite house, a most fanciful idea.
    – Anonym
    Commented Mar 21, 2016 at 0:16

2 Answers 2


"Of all the worst things, this is THE. WORST. POSSIBLE. THING!"

The grammar is wrong. The usage is correct. And that makes perfect nonsense.

Sometimes people like to abuse grammar. Doing it intentionally for emphasis is not the same as using it incorrectly out of ignorance.

The best example of this is double negatives. "I ain't no snitch" doesn't mean I am a snitch. It means I, really, am not a snitch. It's stylistic. It adds flavor. It's abuse of grammar. It might get you corrected. It might get you awards.

Key here is that it's characters speaking this way. Not the narrator. Characters can do what they like. The narrator is typically held to a higher standard.

If you insist on correcting it, grammatically acceptable forms include:

the slightest glimpse


a slight glimpse

  • Being nonstandard does not mean being grammatically incorrect. For example, "You not are right" is grammatically incorrect, but "You ain't right" is grammatically correct. It's just nonstandard. You seem to take it for granted that "a slightest glimpse" is nonstandard. But I'm not so sure. Commented Mar 20, 2016 at 16:52
  • I am inclined to think the difference is slightly more nuanced (for instance if "slightest glimpse" is taken as a compound then it works with an indefinite... If course then it should be hyphenated or in some way marked as a compound). But I like your energy & style enough to give you the point. Commented Mar 20, 2016 at 19:29
  • "It is a violation of grammar." Maybe you are talking about different grammar from mine which is the same as described in Wikipedia.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grammar "Speakers of a language have a set of internalised rules for using that language. This is grammar, and the vast majority of the information in it is acquired—at least in the case of one's native language—not by conscious study or instruction, but by observing other speakers. Much of this work is done during early childhood; learning a language later in life usually involves a greater degree of explicit instruction." Commented Mar 20, 2016 at 21:26
  • So you are saying that Scarlet Wilson intentionally violated the grammar. Why did she do that? Commented Mar 20, 2016 at 22:59
  • According to Wikipedia, double negatives are spoken by the speakers of Appalachian English. I don't think those people intentionally use double negatives to emphasize negation. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Double_negative "Double negatives continue to be spoken by those of Vernacular English, such as those of Appalachian English and African American Vernacular English." Commented Mar 21, 2016 at 3:50

It doesn't make sense to use the indefinite article with a superlative. It would be illogical to do so. By definition biggest means that it is the only one, so you must use the definite article - the biggest - or no article at all - Strictest discipline inhibited all creativity.

The OP's quotation should read the slightest glimpse.

  • 1
    I think a superlative can be used as an intensifier in which case the definite article "the" is not necessarily required. Here is a quote from Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 2. "Yet so far hath discretion fought with nature That we with wisest sorrow think on him, Together with remembrance of ourselves." Please note that "wisest" is used without the definite article "the". Commented Mar 20, 2016 at 16:25
  • @ivanhoescott You make an excellent point. Neither is it Shakespearean license. In modern everyday English superlatives are employed with no articles - Highest praise was reward in itself. But my point is that it simply doesn't work with an indefinite article. I will edit my answer.
    – WS2
    Commented Mar 21, 2016 at 0:03

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