Word Confusion: Better versus Best

Posted November 6, 2014 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Editing, Self-Editing, Word Confusions, Writing

One is good, two is better, and three is best.

Yep, it’s the good – better – best competition. The judgment is subjective, however the rules are not. Anything can be good. Your choice of any one of TWO items is the better of the two, although that decision may change depending on what you’re in the mood for. I mean, sometimes I want Chinese, and other times I need a pizza.

Of course, there are times that chocolate is my preference which boots this into the three or more category, which means whatever I choose will be the best of them all. At that moment *grin*.

Word Confusions…

…started as my way of dealing with a professional frustration with properly spelled words that were out of context in manuscripts I was editing as well as books I was reviewing. It evolved into a sharing of information with y’all. I’m hoping you’ll share with us words that have been a bête noir for you from either end.

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Better Best
Credit to: Dictionary.com: better and best
Part of Grammar:
Adjective; Adverb; Noun; Verb, transitive

Plural for the noun and third person present verb: betters
Past tense or past participle: bettered
Gerund or present participle: bettering

Adjective; Adverb; Noun; Verb, transitive

Third person present verb: bests
Past tense or past participle: bested
Gerund or present participle: besting


A comparison examines two options, and you can have the better of two options, but you can’t have the best of only two options.

good or better

better or best

good or better or best


A superlative examines the best of three or more options.

good or better or best

Use better when comparing good with best as the superlative

Of superior quality or excellence

Morally superior

  • More virtuous

Of superior suitability, advisability, desirability, acceptableness, etc.



  • Greater

Improved in health

  • Healthier than before

Completely recovered in health

Superlative of good with better as the comparative

Of the highest quality, excellence, or standing

Most advantageous, suitable, or desirable


  • Most
Comparison of well with best as the superlative

In a more appropriate or acceptable way or manner

To a greater degree

  • More completely or thoroughly


  • More suitably, appropriately, or usefully
Superlative of well with better as the comparative

Most excellently or suitably

  • With most advantage or success

In or to the highest degree

  • Most fully usually used in combination
That which has greater excellence or is preferable or wiser

[Usually, betters] Those superior to one in wisdom, wealth, etc.

Usually the best

Something or someone that is best

A person’s finest clothing

A person’s most agreeable or desirable emotional state (often preceded by at)

A person’s highest degree of competence, inspiration, etc. (often preceded by at).

The highest quality to be found in a given activity or category of things (often preceded by at)

The best effort that a person, group, or thing can make

A person’s best wishes or kindest regards

Verb, transitive:
To increase the good qualities of

Make better

  • Improve

To improve upon

  • Surpass
  • Exceed

[Cards] To raise a previous bid

Verb, transitive:
[Informal] To get the better of

  • Defeat
  • Beat
This brand of butter is better than that one.

a better coat

a better speech

They are no better than thieves.

a better time for action

Ooh, look Mary, this one’s even better!

It took the better part of a lifetime to accomplish this.

I feel better.

You behave better than last week, or else.

He knows the way better than we do.

I probably know him better than anyone else.

I walked better than a mile to town.

It was the better of two choices.

Hmph, they consider themselves our betters.

Verb, transitive:
More buses during heavy commuting times would better the lot of the suburban commuter.

We have bettered last year’s production record.

Marge, can you better that bid?

This brand of butter is the best of them all.

the best work

the best students

the best way

The best part of a day.

She needs to find an opera role that best suits her voice.




They always demand and get the best.

The best of us can make mistakes.

It’s important that you wear your best.

Do the best you can.

He wasn’t at his best.

His woodwork is cabinetmaking at its best.

Their best fell far short of excellence.

Please give my best to your father.

Verb, transitive:
He easily bested his opponent in hand-to-hand combat.

She bested me in the argument.

Adjective: bettermost, unbettered
Noun: betterment, betters,
Noun: bestie, besties,
History of the Word:
First known use: before 900

Middle English bettre, Old English betera.

It is related to Old High German bezziro (German besser), Dutch beter, Old Norse betr, Gothic batiza.

First known use: before 900

Middle English beste, Old English betst, best.

It is related to Dutch best, Old High German bezzist (German best), Old Norse bezt, Gothic batists.

C’mon, get it out of your system, bitch, whine, moan…which words are your pet peeves? Also, please note that I try to be as accurate as I can, but mistakes happen or I miss something. Email me if you find errors, so I can fix them…and we’ll all benefit!

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Pinterest Photo Credits:

I couldn’t find the source for this “Hall of Flame 2002 Firemen”, so I thought I’d provide a link to the Hall of Flame Museum.