Submitted by dave2 on July 24, 2006

as best he can

On the matter of “as best he can”, hasn’t that been misused consistently by newscasters who toss to a reporter to give us the story “as best he can”, when they really mean “as well as he can”.

To me, “as best he can” implies that he can do it best, better than anyone else, in other words, “as he can, best of all”.

It seems to me that they really intend to suggest that the reorter will do the best they can (judging from the context of their introduction, which often implies that the story is still unfolding and not yet completely understood).

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Obviously I'm coming to this thread quite late, but "as best __ can" is a pet grammatical peeve of mine. I've always felt it was grammatically wrong. The construction should be either "as well as __ can" or "the best __ can".

The best way to show why I feel this way is to try to do the same thing with another superlative. If someone said "I always donate as most I can", I think your ears would hurt, at least a little. The correct construction is either "as much as I can" or "the most I can". It puzzles me why or how "as best I can" slipped into common usage, but it's found everywhere nowadays, so my flinching is continually becoming less intense.

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Gary is right, it's a superlative, so "as best" cannot be right. C'mon people!

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No, John, I didn't use it myself. Every instance above was a quoted example of how it is being used by the anchors [see the quotes ""]. For example, if I were to say "Let's have John give us the details, as best he can", as I understand it, that doesn't me that same as saying "as well as he can" or "Let's have John do the best he can to give us the details".

It means "as he can best". Now, if I said "Let's have John give us the details, as he can better than I", do you now see the difference. Either he gives it to us
1. as well as he can, or the best he can
2. as better he can [than I - implied] or
3. as best he can [better than all others]

Exactly, Tom, I agree that doing "the best he can" in no way implies that John can do it better than anyone else, but "doing the best he can" is more akin to #1 above. I would have no problem with it, if they said "let's have John give us the details, [doing] the best he can". My point is that's what they INTENDED to say, but that's not what they SAID.

You are missing the distinction between asking him to do "the best [job] he can [do]" or asking him to do the job, as [or since] he can [do it] best.

If I say "I'll do the best I can", I'm not comparing myself to anyone else, but if I say "I'll do it, as best I can", that's not the same thing. When I say "I'll do it as best I can", it's the same as saying "as I can, best" which means "I'll do it as [only] I can, better than anyone".

What bugs me is when "as best he can" is used, but they really meant "the best he can".

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Finally!

Someone else who GETS it!!! "best" does NOT mean the same as "well", nor the same as "well as" when used in the phrase "as _____ he/she/it can", elided or not!

The only way that using the word "best" in this phrase could be correctly interpreted would be as in inverted manner of saying "as he/she/it can best".

If I were to say, "as he/she/it can better", the implied finish to that phrase would be "than I (can)", e.g. "Let Gary explain it to you, as he can better than I can".

If I felt that no one else could make the point any more clearly than Gary could, I might even say, "Let Gary explain it to you, as best he can.", in other words, "as Gary can, which is better than anyone else", which is to say, "as Gary can best (of all)".

It has nothing to do with Gary doing his best. If that were what I meant, I would ask Gary to do as WELL as he can.

Bottom line: in this usage "well as" and "best" are NOT synonymous!

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This issue is discussed in Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage (page 126). They provide 11 examples from literature, dating from 1807 to the present, and conclude "It looks like a perfectly respectable idiom to us."

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Hear, hear. It's true, I think, that it's probably an elided version of "as best AS __ can," but that doesn't make it correct or sensible.

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I have to agree with the others. "...as best he can" is just an elided version of "...as best as he can", universally understood to mean doing something to the best of his abilities. I not sure I can even understand how you can parse this phrase to mean "...in his usual fashion, better than everyone else". Gee, maybe in some sort of 16th century poetic grammar? Or maybe if if were spoken by Yoda?

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It's always seemed to me that the full meaning is something like, "As best as possible, under the circumstances." So there might be a situation in which the reporter doesn't know the facts, not because he isn't good at his job, but because there is conflicting or insufficient information. Giving the story "as best as you can" means that what you're saying is based on insufficient, possibly inaccurate, information, and therefore should be considered as tentative, but you're going to give it a shot anyway.

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Interestingly, most, if not all of the examples given could be interpreted either my way or the other way, although I suspect the intent was not to say what I am hearing, but it still grates on my nerves, and nothing anyone can say will change that.

Even trying as most I can ;-), I don't see that the article clears anything up.
s/b (IMHO)
Even trying as much as I can, I don't see that the article clears anything up.
or
Even trying as well as I can, I don't see that the article clears anything up.
or
Even trying as hard as I can, I don't see that the article clears anything up.
or
Even trying the best I can, I don't see that the article clears anything up.

Yes, it's an accepted idiom, but with which meaning? With at least a couple of less convoluted ways of saying this much more clearly, as illustrated above, why must we accept such an unclear, unnecessary muddling of the language?

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"it’s meaning is clear", says goofy.

Really?! Well, I read the entire entry on p. 126, from the middle of the left column to the middle of the right column, and there was no attempt to define what it means, only examples of its use. Assuming facts not in evidence does not make them so.

IMHO, it is not clear, and nothing you might say will change that. As far as I'm concerned anyone who uses this awkward idiom is confused.

I thank Gary for illustrating, better than I, why I consider it so awkward as to be ill conceived, if not useless for the apparently intended meaning.

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To comment and summarize:

1. "As best as he can" is just plain wrong, even if it's now commonly used.

2. "The best that he can" is quite different, and is correct.

3. "As best he can," used correctly, means "as he can do better than all others."

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Typos:
"that doesn't me that same" should have been "that doesn't mean the same"

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John, I just realized how you THOUGHT I used the phrase I'm complaining about. You obviously missed the distinction I am making between the two phrases.

You are equating "the best he can" with "as best he can" but they don't have the same meaning. Yes I did use "the best he can", but my point is that's what is intended when they improperly say "as best he can".

You are making the same mistake as the anchor, IMHO.

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I have to disagree Dave.

"Let's have John give us the details, as best he can"
"Let's have John give us the details, the best he can"
"Let's have John give us the details, as well as he can"

These all mean the same thing. You are making a distinction where none exists. As Porsche says, I don't see how you can understand it to mean "best, better than anyone else, in other words, "as he can, best of all"."

What the reporter intended to say is what he said, and is what I think most of the audience understood him to say.

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I think Goofy got it right back in April, 2009. His citation of Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage demonstrates that the idiom "as best" is well established. Dave's complaint that "there was no attempt to define what it means" misses the point of that publication. It is not a dictionary.
The phrase "as best he can" is idiomatic. And idioms are by definition anti-grammatical:

idiom: [A]n expression in the usage of a language that is peculiar to itself either grammatically (as no, it wasn't me) or in having a meaning that cannot be derived from the conjoined meanings of its elements (as Monday week for “the Monday a week after next Monday”).

(From m-w.com)

Idioms are like sun-dried tomatoes, or raisins: they appear in the salad of daily speech whether you like them or not. Some may not suit your taste, but they do not damage the salad—or the speech.

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I do understand idioms...even regional ones. But "as best as" seems less idiomatic than confused.

It may be that saying "I did good", when what you mean is that you did something well, is common and well understood...but it is not idiomatic, just a common grammatical mistake. Similarly, conflating an adverbial element with an comparative adjective may be a common mistake and trivial to some, but I am not sure that really makes it idiomatic.

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I thank Gary for illustrating, better than I, why I consider it so awkward as to be ill conceived, if not useless, for the apparently intended meaning.

(corrected punctuation)

As Gary said, I hear it so often now that my flinching is less intense. Just don't expect me to like it or use it. That will never happen.

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BTW, goofy, I have no problem at all with the earliest example:

. . . blow 'em up as best suits our convenience —
Washington Irving, <i>Salmagundi </i>, 14 Aug. 1807

If blowin' 'em up is what best suits our convenience, then so be it, but to me, that's just not an example of the same awkward "misuse" of "as best".

I really don't care if "Bernstein specifically approves (sic) it" in 1977 or not. Even if Bernstein says, "It is perfectly proper to say, 'He did the job as best he could.'", he doesn't mention whether that means "he did the job as well as he could" or "he did the job, as only HE could do it best", with the emphasis on "he", making the claim that no one else could have done it better.

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I think I see your point Dave in two possible ways (there may be more):

'as best (only) he can' (where 'only' is implied)
or
'as BEST he can' (with emphasis on 'best' - perhaps by means of a short pause, as if there was a comma between 'best' and 'he' - although perhaps still ambiguous)

However, although this is something very common in Greek as well as Italian and Spanish (i.e. emphasizing by changing the tone of the voice and/or pausing), my experience living in the UK for 15 years has lead me to the conclusion that such emphasis is often not heard and subsequently not understood by many native English speakers (but not all).

Nonetheless, as my posting name implies, I am Greek, and English is NOT my mother tongue. I would, therefore, like to ask the following:
If I wanted to WRITE "do {something} in the best way you can" (ignoring the fact that it may be perceived as patronizing, since no-one would expect to be asked to do something sloppily), what would be the best way to convey this in writing?
'as best as you can' ?
'as best you can' ?
'as well as you can' ?
{something else} ?
Or, perhaps, do away with the whole thing and simply write 'in the best way you can'?

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"It seems to me that they really intend to suggest that the reorter will do the best they can"

but... you've just used exactly the same phrase that you're complaining about. I don't see what the problem is here.

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I agree with John.

Doing it the best *I* can in no way implies that somebody else can't do it better or that I can do *it* better than somebody else.

I don't see the problem.

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Dave:
"My point is that's what they INTENDED to say, but that's not what they SAID."

I don't see how you can state with such confidence that someone said one thing but meant something else. Sometimes its obvious, if they make a slip of the tongue, but this isnt a slip of the tongue, it's a well-accepted phrase.

I think you mean that they said something, but didn't say it in the way you think they should have said it.

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This has driven me crazy for years now....it seems to me that the problem is that it is a question of "being" rather than "doing".

I will be the best I can.

It will be the best day of my life.



With "best" acting as an adjective for the object "I" or "day".

But:

"I will do it as well as I can."

with "well" acting as an adverb describing the action and using the adverbial form "as".

When you say:

"I will run it the best that I can" I think the deeper grammer is that "it" (the implied run) will be the best, not you. An adjective.

Whereas, if you say "I will run it as well as I can" the reflection is on your running. An adverb.

"As best as I can" seems like it an uncomfortable attempt to make an adjective serve in the place of an adverb.

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I never thought I'd find anyone else so bothered as I am by "as best he can," but you all have proved me wrong. Of course the best explanation of its incorrectness is to look at the word "best" as a superlative; I can't think of another example of an expression that uses "as......as" with the superlative form. The incorrect phrase seems to mean "the best he can" in every instance I've seen, and I think the incorrect form has simply taken hold and is now being used everywhere--much like "I could care less." Neither makes sense, most don't seem to care (at least not at THIS POINT IN TIME; AARRGGGHHH!)

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The only ones who can be excused for "her and I" or "her and me" are teenagers talking among themselves. It's grammatically wrong; period. But I have another related item you might want to address. How many are familiar with this gaining-in-popularity expression: This is Jim and I's new house? Sad but true

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Dave, it's meaning is clear. According to MWDEU some usage commentators don't like it, but no one is confused about the meaning.
http://www.bartleby.com/68/37/537.html
http://www.wsu.edu/~brians/errors/asbestas.html

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porsche says:
I have to agree with the others. "…as best he can" is just an elided version of "…as best as he can", universally understood to mean doing something to the best of his abilities.

'Funny thing is', according to one of goofy's references, 'tis not elided, and the latter would universally be understood to be improper:

"You can try to be as good as you can be, but it's not standard to say that you do something “as best as you can.” You need to eliminate the second “as” when “good” changes to “best.” You can try to do something as best you can. You can also do the best that you can (or even better, the best you can).
Unlike asbestos removal, “as best as” removal is easy, and you don’t have to wear a hazmat suit. "

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