Best-known or most well-known?

Discussion in 'English Only' started by cyberpedant, Jan 11, 2010.

  1. cyberpedant

    cyberpedant Senior Member

    North Adams, MA
    English USA, Northeast, NYC
    I'm proof-reading a text in which I've found the following phrase: "The novels for which Austen is most well known...."

    Having been taught that the comparison of the adjective "good" is "good, better, best," I am sorely tempted to correct "most well known" to "best-known." But there seems to be considerable acceptance of "most well known."

    Your opinions?

    Thanks in advance.
  2. Driven

    Driven Senior Member

    I think both ways are ok. Personally, I would say best known also but I think "most well known" is also acceptable. (I wouldn't use a hyphen with best known though unless it was preceding the noun. For example, his best-known novels. Or, he is best known for the novels.....)
  3. cyberpedant

    cyberpedant Senior Member

    North Adams, MA
    English USA, Northeast, NYC
    Thanks, Driven. You're right about the hyphen, of course.
  4. sdgraham

    sdgraham Senior Member

    Oregon, USA
    USA English
    Since I've had the doctrine of being parsimonious with words drilled into me at a relatively early age, "most well known" would fall victim immediately to my red pencil.
  5. entangledbank

    entangledbank Senior Member

    English - South-East England
    The two constructions seem about equally common and equally acceptable to me. Presumably the phrase 'well known' is reinterpreted as an adjective 'well-known' (which I'd hyphenate on the grounds it was now a single word). As a phrase containing an adverb, the adverb is inflected; as an adjective it takes 'more'.

    You get the same thing with complexes of 'high': 'most high-profile' = 'highest-profile'. Oddly, for me at least 'high quality' isn't an adjective; I can only say 'highest quality', not 'most high-quality'. I'm not aware of any complexes of 'well' where there's any difference in acceptability.
  6. cuchuflete

    cuchuflete Senior Member

    Maine, EEUU
    I would be comfortable with both best known and with most adjectival phrase.

    I read well known (with no need for a hyphen when it does not come before a noun, and with a hyphen required when it does) as an adverb followed by the adjective it modifies; most modifies the combined adverb +adjective.

    Ultimately it is a question of stylistic preference, as the meanings of the alternative terms are the same.
  7. cyberpedant

    cyberpedant Senior Member

    North Adams, MA
    English USA, Northeast, NYC
    Thanks to all. Much appreciated.
  8. JulianStuart

    JulianStuart Senior Member

    Sonoma County CA
    English (UK then US)
    I think the acceptance is because the "well known" is seen as different from just "known".

    Algebraically, if I might : Most (well known) is different from (Most well) known. The latter cries out for "best" while the most of the former sits quite happily on its own.
  9. cyberpedant

    cyberpedant Senior Member

    North Adams, MA
    English USA, Northeast, NYC
    Interesting and useful analysis, Julian. Thanks.
  10. cuchuflete

    cuchuflete Senior Member

    Maine, EEUU
    Drifting back to a starting point...

    I wonder if this is pertinent. Do we say "good" known? Isn't it more useful to think of our options as -

    least known>>>known>>more known>> most or best known ?

    Of course we can say better known, so that confuses things a little. English is not algebraic, even if we sometimes benefit from trying algebraic analysis.
  11. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    Cuchu, I think it is pertinent :)D) because not only do we say good-better-best, we also say well-better-best....

    That said, I agree with Julian and with you: it depends whether we're thinking of most (well-known) or (most-well) known = best-known.
  12. cyberpedant

    cyberpedant Senior Member

    North Adams, MA
    English USA, Northeast, NYC
    Indeed. I should have put it "well-better-best" in the first place.
  13. Wynn Mathieson

    Wynn Mathieson Senior Member

    Castell-nedd Port Talbot
    English - United Kingdom
    There is also the difference between

    -- most well-known writers (as in, say, "Most well-known writers are not wealthy")


    -- best-known writers (as in, say, "He is one of the country's best-known writers")
  14. hedgy Senior Member

    Michael Swan (he's got a very got grammar) says:
    compound adjectives:
    well-known better-known or more known best-known or most well-known
    the same happens with good-looking
    but there is a text which goes like this:
    For almost 17 years Jane has worked as one of the Tower of London's Yeoman Warders, ______ known to tourist as Beefeather.
    (the teacher's book says this is the correct one)
    there is no hyphen and I do not understand why more can't be the answer too.
    If we can say better-known or more known, why does the teacher's book say that the answer is better and not more?
    Last edited: Feb 5, 2013
  15. entangledbank

    entangledbank Senior Member

    English - South-East England
    No, we can't say 'more known'. The discussion above is about 'more well-known'. In the positive degree, with no comparison:

    :tick:The Beefeaters are well known.
    :cross:The Beefeaters are much known.

    Now form the comparative degree of those two sentences. 'Much' becomes 'more' in the second one, and is still ungrammatical, for the same reason:

    :cross:The Beefeaters are more known than the Swiss Guards.

    For the first one, there are two ways of making the comparative of 'well known', and they are both grammatical:

    :tick:The Beefeaters are better known than the Swiss Guards. [('more' + 'well') + 'known' - because we say 'better' for 'more well']
    :tick:The Beefeaters are more well known than the Swiss Guards. ['more' + ('well' + 'known') - as if 'well-known' is a new adjective]
  16. Myridon

    Myridon Senior Member

    English - US
    I think that this is saying that if something is even more "known" than (well-known or better-known) then it's (best-known or most well-known), i.e. "more known" is not part of the list but part of the text explaining the list. Compare this to: (a little bit red) pink or rose (more red) carmine or crimson. "More red" is not a color.
  17. AlmostMelchior Banned

    English USA
    best known
  18. IJKD New Member

    English - UK
    I would agree. Most well known sounds like something Dell Boy would say; rather like, "It's my most favourite, Rodney". I'd favour best known (hyphenated, or not depending on exact useage).

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