“Ranking” adjectives show a noun’s or position in a hierarchy, list, sequence or category. On this page, we will be looking at ordinals and superlatives. Such adjectives mark exact places in groups and sequences, and therefore deserve to be accompanied by the definite article “the.”
the + ranking adjective
Ordinals are numerical adjectives, used to show a noun’s position in a sequence, or order. They can be written numerically (1st, 2nd, 3rd, 21st) or as words (first, second, third, twenty-first).
Note: The same words can also be used as adverbs in many cases. The definite article can only be used when the “ranking word” is an adjective. You can say “I was the first person to arrive” (used as an adjective), but you cannot say “I arrived the first” (used as an adverb). You also cannot say “The firstly;” as “firstly” is an adverb.
Ordinals and general sequence adjectives
the + ordinal / sequence adjective
What is the first item on the agenda? (the + ordinal)
Where is the fourth macaron? (the + ordinal)
The following presentation is sponsored by Flower Corp. (the + sequence adjective)
Our team goes out for drinks on the last weekend of every month. (the + ordinal)
November is the 11th month of the year. (the + ordinal)
Christmas is usually celebrated on the 25th of December. (the + ordinal)
Note: “The 25th of December” essentially means “The 25th day of December.” When speaking about dates in this way, the noun “day” is often omitted, as it is mutually understood that months are divided into days. This only applies to dates. Do not do the same for days of the week, months or hours.
Superlatives are adjective and adverb forms used to indicate if something is of the greatest or lowest degree of the description. “Best” is the superlative of the adjective “good.” “Funniest” is the superlative of the adjective “funny.” “Most delicious” is the superlative of the adjective “delicious.”
There can only be one “best,” “friendliest” or “most creative” person at a time. Of course, such titles are often exaggerations, and subject to personal judgement. Nonetheless, superlatives are “definite” expressions, and are accompanied by the definite article.
If I say, “She is the tallest woman in the room.” I can only be talking about one person. If I say, “Please show me the tallest woman in the room.” You can only refer to one person. All the other women can be described as “tall” or “taller than” each other; but there can only be one “tallest” woman in the room.
the + superlative
Tony makes the tastiest burgers in the world. (the + superlative)
Cheetahs are the fastest land animals. (the + superlative)
Langa is the most compassionate person I know. (the + superlative)
He has the most beautiful smile I have ever seen. (the + superlative)
When you are in love, you feel like the happiest person alive. (the + superlative)
You have to be the slowest person I have ever walked with. (the + superlative)