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Use of the definite article

The superlative adjective phrase is preceded by a definite article when used in a predicative, attributive or adverbial construction. An example of the predicative use:

Example 1

Hulle invloed in my lewe is die grootste.
their influence in my life is the great·SUPL
Their influence in my life is the greatest.

An attributive construction:

Example 2

Die twee is die grootste maats.
the two are the great·SUPL buddies
The two are biggest buddies.

An example of an adverbial construction:

Example 3

Van almal lag sy die hardste.
of everybody laughs she the loud·SUPL
Of everybody, she is laughing (the) loudest.

Omission of the article is ungrammatical in such cases:

Example 4

*Hulle invloed in my lewe is grootste.
their influence in my life is great·SUPL
Example 5

*een van interessantste persoonlikhede
one of interesting·SUPL personalities
Example 6

*Sy lag hardste van almal.
she laughs loud·SUPL of all

The superlative adjective requires the definite article in three instances. Firstly, when the adjective is used in the predicative position:

Example 7

Sy is eenvoudig die beste.
She is simply the best.

Secondly, when the adjective occurs in the attributive position:

Example 8

die slimste ding om te doen
the clever.SUPL thing PTCL·INF to do
the cleverest thing to do

Thirdly, when the adjective occurs in the adverbial position:

Example 9

Hy weet die beste.
he knows the good.SUPL
He knows best.

The superlative, in any of these three positions, can also be followed by a prepositional phrase (further discussed in AP_4-2-8), as in this example:

Example 10

Die olifant is die slimste van alle grootwild.
the elephant is the clever.SUPL of all big.game
The elephant is the cleverest of all big game.

In the case of the attribute above, example (8), one could argue that the definite article is required because of the presence of the noun (dingthing). Furthermore, when used predicatively, as in bestebest and slimstecleverest in examples (9) and (10) above, the adjective has apparently undergone nominalisation, in which case the definite article remains a requirement. However, no such requirement applies when the positive (as in example (11) or comparative forms of the adjective - as in examples (12) and (13) - are used in comparable sentences:

Example 11

Olifante doen slim dinge.
elephants do clever things
Example 12

Ons moet slimmer planne maak.
we must clever·CMPR plans make
We have to make cleverer plans.
Example 13

Kospryse het vinniger gestyg.
food.prices have fast·CMPR escalated
Food prices have escalated faster.

The article is compulsory in the case of superlatives in the attributive and predicative positions, as in the examples above, and cannot be omitted in the adverbial position, as below:

Example 14

*Kospryse het vinnigste gestyg.
food.prices have fast·SUPL escalated
Food prices have escalated fastest.

However, irregular superlatives which are frequent and which seem to have undergone some meaning specialisation, may occur without article, as in the case of meestemost, which is hardly distinguishable from the adverb meestalmostly:

Example 15

Hulle praat meestal Portugees.
They speak mostly Portuguese.
Example 16

Sy praat meeste oor haarself.
she talks much·SUPL about herself
She talks mostly about herself.
Example 17

Die polisie was eerste op die toneel.
The police was first on the scene.

The last example involves the form eerstefirst, which is both the superlative of eersearlier and the ordinal form of the numeral eenone. Ordinals can generally occur without the article:

Example 18

Lewis Hamilton was tweede.
Lewis Hamilton was second.

Finally, within the paradigm of determiners, in the attributive position, the definite article can also be replaced by a possessive pronoun, as in these examples:

Example 19

Van Niekerk is ons vinnigste atleet.
Van Niekerk is our fast.SUPL athlete
Van Niekerk is our fastest athlete.
Example 20

Chad swem op sy vinnigste.
Chad swims on his fast.SUPL
Chad is swimming at his fastest.
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