English Usage Topics > Absolutes
Certain words are absolutes, which means that they are complete, unconditional, and unqualifiable. Thus, according to many usage guides, one should not use comparison words with them. However, it’s done all the time.
Perfect is a good example of an absolute. It means excellent or complete beyond practical or theoretical improvement. Perfect cannot exist in varying degrees. But since the thirteenth century, the word perfect has often been qualified: the most perfect day we’ve had. A famous misuse is in the United States Constitution: “in order to form a more perfect union.”
Another absolute is the word unique. Unique means existing as the only one or as the sole example. How can something be very one-of-a-kind? When it first entered the English language in the 1600s, its meaning was single, sole, having no equal. Unique developed the wider meaning of not typical and unusual by the mid-nineteenth century. Some examples are: He is more unique than anyone else and It was a very unique day.
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