"As best you can"



What is the logic of "as best (as) you can"?

"As" introduces an adjective or adverb in its simple, normal state, doesn't it, as in "This is as good as it gets" or "I ran as fast as I could" or "Close the door as quietly as possible, please, so you won't wake the baby."

So shouldn't the expression be: "as well as you can," not "as best you can"?

Posted 19 February 2003
There is a case to be made for considering this idiom a kind of comparative. In fact, some dictionaries equate it with "as well as one can." The Collins COBUILD English Language Dictionary (1987) says, for example, "If someone does something as best they can, they try as hard as they can to succeed in doing it."

(It should be pointed out that there is not a second as in the idiom as best (one) can, at least in standard written usage. Informal usage is different, with a second as fairly common. In standard written style it's of the form as best (one) can/could.)

Others, however, consider this idiom as a kind of superlative, not a comparative. The Random House Dictionary of the English Language (1977), for example, says that it means "in the best possible way, under the circumstances." Similarly, the online American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms (by Christine Ammer: copyright 1997, The Christine Ammer Trust) gives its meaning as "to the ultimate of one's ability."

From this evidence it seems that there is no consensus as to whether this expression is a kind of comparative or a superlative, but in any case, it's an idiom and is therefore outside the bounds of ordinary rules of logic and grammar.

Marilyn Martin

Return to the Key Word Index