The Many Uses of “Best”
Besides its use as a simple adjective meaning, “of the highest excellence, excelling all others in quality,” the word best serves as other parts of speech and occurs in many English idioms.
As a verb, to best means to get the better of, get an advantage over, outdo; to outreach, outwit, circumvent. “Jack’s wife always bests him at bridge.”
Best can be a noun. “Marilyn wanted nothing but the best for herself and her family.”
As an adverb best modifies a verb. “All the boys are good at drawing faces, but James does it best.”
Here are several common idioms that make use of the word best. The list is by no means exhaustive.
best man: the chief male attendant who stands up for the groom at a wedding. With the advent of same-sex marriage, the term is beginning to lose its gendered meaning.
the best people: people considered better than most, either because they come from old, established families, or because they possess superior moral qualities. “The best people possess a feeling for beauty, the courage to take risks, the discipline to tell the truth, the capacity for sacrifice.” –Ernest Hemingway
best boy: the principal assistant to the chief electrician in a film crew
best seller: what every writer wants to have or to be. The term usually applies to a book or other product, but sometimes it stands for a best-selling author. (Yes, best-selling takes a hyphen.)
second best: next in quality to the first. No one wants to be “second best,” but whether or not it’s a bad thing depends upon who or what is “first best.” For example, in the Forbes list of the richest people in the U.S., Warren Buffett is “second best.” His net worth of a mere $58 billion puts him in second place after Bill Gates. Gates has $72 billion.
to do one’s best and to give it one’s best shot: both expressions mean “to do something to the best of one’s ability,” but they have differing connotations:
“I always try to do my best.” (applicable to any situation)
“I may not have time to pick up the laundry, but I’ll do my best.” (implies that the effort may be futile)
“Everyone else in the contest has more experience, but I’ll give it my best shot.” (the odds of failure are greater than those of success.)
to make the best of it: adjust to a bad situation. “The tornado destroyed our house, but we’ll make the best of it.”
for the best: better than it seems or seemed at the moment. “His bride left him at the altar, but it was for the best because he met and married someone better.”
the best of both worlds: a situation in which you can enjoy two very different things at the same time. “Nina Dobev, who portrays both human Elena and her doppelganger, former vampire Katherine in [ The Vampire Diaries] – said she gets the best of both worlds.”
Some “best” expressions are hyphenated:
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