This earlier question asks about the omissibility of 'the' before 'most' in this example:

(The) most tuna are caught in early November.

The only answer there (by David Schwartz) that has received 16 votes basically says that 'the' can be left out but only with a different meaning:

The answer says that, with the definite article present,

'most' is a superlative meaning "the amount that is greatest"

and that, without the definite article,

'most' is an intensifier meaning "more than half".

Regarding the meaning of the version without the definite article, I think I agree that 'most' without 'the' can mean "more than half", but I think that it can also mean "greatest in amount" (a superlative reading) depending on further context.

But I've come across similar examples in CaGEL*, which basically says the two versions mean the same thing and that most without the is also a superlative:

[21id] Pat made [the most mistakes]. (p 1167) [Note: boldface indicating a DP functioning as determiner in the NP]


The most of [21id], however, is the inflectional superlative of many, and here the most forms a DP functioning as determiner in the NP; this the is optional and cannot be replaced by a genitive or demonstrative. (p 1168)


[23v] It was Kim who attracted [(the) most attention]. (p 1168) [Note: boldface indicating a DP functioning as determiner in the NP]


No such factors apply in [23iii–v], and here the can be omitted. Note, however, that its omission does not result in a change of meaning – in particular, there is no change from definite to indefinite. In [v] the is part of the DP, as in [21id] above. (p 1169)

What I'd like to know is whether: (1) David Schwartz's answer is correct or 'most tuna' without 'the' can also have a superlative reading (as I suspect); and

(2) most in [21id] and [23v] of CaGEL can also be interpreted as "more than half" when the is omitted, despite CaGEL's claim that the meaning is the same (only superlative reading) with or without the.

*The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language by Huddleston & Pullum

  • The answer in the linked thread is quite unacceptable. See my comments now added there, and notice the possible ambiguity. I've not posted an answer, because I believe that there are subtler pragmatic considerations here than I've come up with. Bottom line here: 'Most puddlefish are caught in May' is inherently ambiguous in everyday language (though it probably defaults to the first reading below). Adding 'The' is probably veering towards the unidiomatic. Rephrasing ... Commented May 18, 2018 at 9:53
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    is necessary to unequivocally distinguish 'The highest monthly catches of puddlefish are [usually/always] those of May' and 'Over half of all puddlefish caught are caught in May'. // CaGEL is a very respected treatise, and should only be queried when there are other schools with postgraduate members offering cogently argued alternatives. Though even this volume can't cover everything fully; there are perhaps articles investigating the quantifier usages of 'more' / 'the more' in greater depth. // With [23v], I'd say ... Commented May 18, 2018 at 10:11
  • you need 'It was Kim who attracted most of the attention' or possibly even *something more precise to at least bring into consideration the 'over 50%' sense. *'Kim attracted over half the attention' is of course 'clearer' in one sense, but doesn't sound too natural. Commented May 18, 2018 at 10:40
  • @EdwinAshworth I'd like you to post an answer, even just with what you've said in your comments even though you think it's not perfect. If only perfect answers can be posted we may never get a single answer to any question.
    – JK2
    Commented May 21, 2018 at 4:57
  • No; I'll not post an 'answer' lacking supporting evidence, especially if challenging CGEL. I have found an example 'Is it true that most people die between 3am-4am as the body is weakest at this time? ...' posted on Quora, where obviously a 50+% reading is unavailable and a 'modal interval' sense must be assumed; I'd accept this usage but have not found a satisfactory reference. There's ... Commented May 21, 2018 at 11:03

4 Answers 4


I think it depends on whether 'most' refers to the subject of the sentence or not. If 'tuna' is the subject:

'Most tuna' = 'the majority of all the tuna in the sea'.

'The most tuna' = 'the highest catches of tuna'.

Both your examples from CaGEL have 'most' referring to the object of a verb. In these cases I don't think the omission of 'the' changes the meaning.

  • So, are you saying that, in They caught most tuna in early November, most tuna cannot mean "more than half" (since most tuna is not the subject)?
    – JK2
    Commented May 17, 2018 at 8:46
  • @EdwinAshworth You seem to know something about what Kate is trying to say. But I have no clue as to why being a subject or even an agent or not should affect the interpretation of 'most' with or without 'the'. Could you elaborate? Better yet, could you write up your own answer?
    – JK2
    Commented May 18, 2018 at 3:22
  • If this is addressed to me, I'm not well up in the finer points of grammar terminology. It seems to me that if you say 'Most tuna are X' you mean 'the majority of the species', but 'the most tuna are caught in November' implies 'of those that are caught, the greatest number are caught in November'. I don't see a similar distinction between 'made most mistakes' and 'made the most mistakes'. Commented May 18, 2018 at 9:34
  • You need to explain this more clearly. You're possibly confusing 'subject' and 'agent' (different in passive constructions). But in any case, you need to add support for your conjecture. (this was comment [3]; should appear before above response.) [Comments without '@' default to answerer on ELU.] // Would you reject someone looking at a 12-bar bar-chart and saying 'Most mauve squirrelfish are caught in May' if that was the highest bar? It's a matter of pragmatics (what people actually say) rather than tight logic (how precisionists wish English worked). And I've used 'most' in a subject here. Commented May 18, 2018 at 10:35

I believe it does change the meaning: It changes the meaning, context, and interpretation of the sentence. As an analytical society; We inadherently judge (preemptively assume), ie. make Snap-judgments (consciously and/ subconsciously) Based off others' dialect, tone, pitch, and word choice pertaining to their intelligence and/or incredibility of their statement.

The most tuna are caught in early November Most tuna are caught in early November

The makes it a declarative sentence. It puts stamina and depth behind the words. Who? identified Noun: tuna What? are caught When? November

So you're telling me the most amount of tuna are caught in November. You've made a declaration; essentially proclaimed in that moment November; is absolutely the best time for me to go... right? If I'm interested in catching fish then this is the advice that I would heed.

Most tuna are caught in November


Well how have you not changed the intended meaning or overall propriety to the sentence. Most? As in this when the fish are the slipperiest or most vulnerable to my fishing lure? The easiest to catch, or is that when they run? That's a shrug of a sentence and an unsure fact if I ever heard one. There is less depth, less surety; and thus not nearly as effective as a declarative sentence intends. Not to mention; Once you remove the; the sentence is my puddy and I can mold it for a metaphor. Removing the; You make it malleable; left up to misinterpretation. Above all else; Assumptions. Our brains process language so quickly; within seconds we trust or distrust information. It's all about formatting. Words are the prodigy's violin, the sun's rays;

When properly strung they can influence the world. If something is so strong it holds so much power then you can not say you could simply slice /the/ and have the intended meaning be exactly the same.

  • What does “the most amount of things are” mean? That does not sound idiomatic. If it’s a mass noun, it should take singular concord, like in the greatest amount of nutrition is available in the freshest catch.
    – tchrist
    Commented Jul 25, 2019 at 0:17

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The most bass caught in some year. Same idea. The most refers indirectly to some statistics somewhere or other.

If you look at the chart, you will see that there is a year in which "the most bass caught was 130".

The most x is used when referring indirectly or directly to some statistical source of numbers. It is "the most" of all the numbers given in that source for some period. In the chart, that would be in 2005 year.

Versus: Most bass are not caught using nets. [a general statement]


  • The chart is describing the number of fish caught in 2004 and in 2005 and the size of those fish. The statistic 130 specifically refers to the number of 13-inch bass caught in 2004. The total sum of fish caught for that year was 732, not 130.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented May 25, 2018 at 18:11
  • Whatever. I can't read charts for the life of me. Yes, 130 13-inch bass. The most and longest bass caught were 130 13-inch bass. But my point still stands. And that was the point. The most fish were caught in 2004. In any case, none of the answers even come close....to answering the question.
    – Lambie
    Commented May 25, 2018 at 18:25
  • So what do you say about such usages as 1. What gives me the most sadness is that the action is taken with nothing mentioned from the Scriptures or the Lutheran Confessions. and 2. Dianne looked at her with the most anger that she could summon. Commented May 25, 2018 at 19:48
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    Well, I would have to say the greatest sadness and the greatest anger. To go along with my theory.
    – Lambie
    Commented May 25, 2018 at 20:12
  • Do you think that sentences 1 and 2 are unacceptable? Commented May 25, 2018 at 21:22

I'm not going to get a good answer in by the bell but:

I think "most" idiomatically to "most" people means 65% t0 85%

'the most' is specifying the largest subset, but we use most differently.

It is not a 'magnifier' in terms of superlative but say: a common multiple choice alternative

A better analogy would be :

"F" = Fail "D" = Poor C = "Fair" B= "Good" A" = Excellent

A poll might have a question with a pseudo 1 to 5 scale

"How many friends have started a savings account for their childrens education? "

1) Few or None 2) Some/Many 3)Half/more than not 4) most 5) All or nearly All

I am a bit harried but I believe if we had a quiz about

Most tuna are caught in November

choose the answer best fitting your reading of above sentence

A) Less than 10 % B) 25 % c) 50 to 60% D) 65 to 85% F) above 85%

I -strongly suspect- that more people would choose D than C

Yes a question with 5 choices is a leading question but even without the question prompts if you asked

Fill in your best guess for % born in November the answer would drift in my 65% to 85% range

A small reference - a Pew Organization primer mentions a question they once used:


Questions with ordinal response categories – those with an underlying order (e.g., excellent, good, only fair, poor OR very favorable, mostly favorable, mostly unfavorable, very unfavorable) – are generally not randomized because the order of the categories conveys important information to help respondents answer the question.

For example, in one of the Pew Research Center’s questions about abortion, half of the sample is asked whether abortion should be “legal in all cases, legal in most cases, illegal in most cases, illegal in all cases” while the other half of the sample is asked the same question with the response categories read in reverse order, starting with “illegal in all cases.” Again, reversing the order does not eliminate the recency effect but distributes it randomly across the population.....

Frequent polling makes this sort of use of 'most' common .. hear it is 'mostly' which I would guess would fall a bit less than 'most' in common perception. My opinion? Perhaps. I wish I started this question sooner and will come back to it again with more research.

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