How to Write Right: Worst Practices
Superlatives are the best. So handy when you really want to emphasize that something is in a class by itself. But sometimes they are the worst, as in this instance:
It was the least worst option.
Before we take this sentence apart, let’s review our definitions. “Positive,” “comparative” and “superlative” are terms that define the level of emphasis, or degree, of an adjective. Positive is the lowest degree, the default position if you will; for example, “bad” is a positive adjective. The next degree is comparative (e.g., “worse”), with superlative as the highest degree (“worst”).
The point of the superlative is to put the noun being modified into a class by itself. A superlative such as “least” or “worst” can also modify another adjective to form a compound superlative. The problem with our sentence is that the second adjective (“worst”) is already superlative, which puts the noun (“option”) into a contradictory situation. There can’t be degrees of worst: either this option is the worst or it’s not. In other words, a superlative can’t be modified by another superlative. We have to use the positive form of the second adjective, thus:
It was the least bad option. •
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