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Grammar books routinely insist on "the most" as for all superlatives, but I can recall certain cases where 'most' has not been used as 'the superlative' but only as 'a superlative!'

(as in)

Mr. Simpson said, "this is a most irregular way of writing this sentence."

He is a most brilliant exponent of the bamboo flute.

But for her extreme lack of discipline, she is a most likeable woman.

(tangential musing: how important is a comma, or its omission! Pl. compare these two constructions --

"but for her extreme lack of discipline, she is a most likeable woman"

"but, for her extreme lack of discipline, she is a most likeable woman.")

Added after 15 minutes by edit:

I also recall seeing least and other superlatives being used similarly, as in

She racked her mind for a least offensive word to describe his vile deeds to his children.

They looked for an easiest and simplest way to convince the old person.

Smoking was banned at the Simpsons' -- they considered it a worst offence.

Grammatical giants at EL & U! Do you consider such cases odd usage? (or even downright wrong, I shouldn't be surprised!)

marked as duplicate by Edwin Ashworth, Cascabel, Drew, Glorfindel, Phil Sweet Apr 24 '17 at 20:25

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  • “but for her” means “except for her” or “apart from her” no comma should be used. – Jim Apr 23 '17 at 22:52
  • Two famous comma-significant examples: A woman without her man is nothing and Lynne Truss's Eats shoots and leaves (theliterarylink.com/punc.html) – Ronald Sole Apr 23 '17 at 22:52
  • It’s not wrong. It may be a bit dated- This would be a typical idiom in conversation from a Jane Austin novel for example. – Jim Apr 23 '17 at 23:02
  • Now you’ve edited it and muddied the waters. – Jim Apr 23 '17 at 23:03
  • 5
    The examples with most aren’t superlatives—they’re adjectives in the positive degree modified by the adverb most, which in this context means ‘very’. All the other examples are completely ungrammatical to me. The superlative cannot be indefinite; it is by definition definite. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Apr 23 '17 at 23:22

The definite article the is used with superlative adjectives when a comparison takes place involving three or more persons or objects. In all other cases the superlative form most can act as a normal adjective, adverb, determiner, noun, pronoun etc. and can take a/an, the or no article as per the context.

Superlative adjectives

Superlative adjectives are used to describe an object which is at the upper or lower limit of a quality (the tallest, the smallest, the fastest, the highest). They are used in sentences where a subject is compared to a group of objects.

Noun (subject) + verb + the + superlative adjective + noun (object).

The group that is being compared with can be omitted if it is clear from the context (final example below). Examples

My house is the largest one in our neighborhood.

This is the smallest box I've ever seen.

Your dog ran the fastest of any dog in the race.

We all threw our rocks at the same time. My rock flew the highest. ("of all the rocks" is understood)

Most: (thefreedictionary.com)

Adj - Greatest in number: won the most votes

In the greatest number of instances: Most fish have fins.

Noun - The greatest amount or degree: She has the most to gain.

Pronoun - (used with a sing. or pl. verb) The greatest part or number: Most of the town was destroyed. Most of the books were missing.

Adv - 1. In or to the highest degree or extent. Used with many adjectives and adverbs to form the superlative degree: most honest; most impatiently.

  1. Very: a most impressive piece of writing.

  2. Informal Almost: Most everyone agrees.

  • Thank you -- you have given a most comprehensive and clear answer! – English Student Apr 24 '17 at 6:16

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