Most Importantly or Most Important? Understanding the Difference

Marcus Froland

Have you ever found yourself pausing mid-sentence, pen hovering over the page or fingers frozen above the keyboard, wrestling with the decision between “most importantly” and “most important”? You’re not alone. This tiny hiccup in English language use trips up many, from beginners to seasoned speakers. It’s like a pebble in your shoe – small, but oh so annoying.

The truth is, the difference matters, and getting it right can polish your speech and writing like a well-worn shine on a favorite pair of shoes. But why does this distinction exist, and how can you master it? Stick around; you might be surprised by what you discover.

In English, most importantly and most important might seem similar, but they have different uses. Most importantly is an adverbial phrase. We use it to start sentences that talk about the most crucial point or fact in a discussion. For example, “Most importantly, we must stay calm.” On the other hand, most important is an adjective phrase. It modifies nouns and comes before them or after linking verbs like ‘be’. An example would be, “The most important thing is to stay calm” or “This is most important.” Remembering this simple rule can help you use each phrase correctly and improve your English.

Exploring the Historical Use of “Most Important” and “Most Importantly”

The linguistic evolution of the English language throughout the 20th century saw substantial changes in preference between “most important” and “most importantly.” Let’s delve into the grammatical trends that impacted the historical language usage of these two phrases.

The Rise and Decline of “Most Important” in the 20th Century

Although “most importantly” had risen in usage steadily since the 1960s, there was substantial resistance to its use from language experts. Some felt it was grammatically misguided, given that adverbs typically modify verbs and “importantly” seemed to lack a clear verb to modify. Conversely, “most important” faced similar criticism; as an adjective, it wasn’t clearly modifying a noun. Such grammatical disputes fueled the ongoing debate on adjective vs. adverb usage in different contexts.

Grammar Experts Debate on Adjective Versus Adverb Usage

Linguists and grammar experts have long debated the use of “most important” versus “most importantly,” with both sides raising valid arguments. Language traditionalists criticized the use of “importantly” on grammatical grounds, claiming that it modifies nothing in the sentence. On the other hand, some suggest that “most important” might be part of an elliptical construction omitting the introductory “what is.” Modern grammar authorities refute this, recognizing both forms as either “supplementive adjective clauses” or “sentence adverbs/adjectives” that modify the entire statement and express the writer’s attitude, thus validating both usages. This ongoing discussion mirrors the greater academic debate surrounding language analysis and evolving grammar rules.

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Examples from Literature and Academic Sources

“The distinction between the life of the mind and the life of the senses… is, most importantly, a social distinction and not an ontological one.” — Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye (1970)

Literary and academic references to both “important” and “importantly” illustrate their use throughout the centuries. Both forms have been documented in texts dating back as far as the 19th century and have appeared in reputable publications, as evidenced by the quote above from the esteemed author Toni Morrison. Linguistic works like ‘A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language’ directly address these usages, offering evidence that undermines the need for choosing one form over the other based on grammaticality alone. The various literature references and linguistic examples serve as a testament to the rich history and multitude of perspectives on this grammatical topic.

“Most Important” vs. “Most Importantly”: Grammatical Perspectives

As a writer, you may find yourself wondering whether to use “most important” or “most importantly” in a sentence. From a grammatical standpoint, both of these phrases are defendable. They each serve the function of modifying or emphasizing the significance of a statement and can be used interchangeably. The choice between using “most important” as an abbreviated form of “what’s most important” and using “most importantly” as a sentence adverb reflects a longstanding recognition of language’s fluidity and the evolution of grammatical norms.

Usage commentators offer valuable grammar guidance on this topic. They explain that these sentence modifiers can both effectively underscore the importance of a point. However, as with many other aspects of the English language, the choice of which phrase to use comes down to personal preference and style.

Language correctness is a priority for many writers, and, luckily, employing either “most important” or “most importantly” adheres to grammatical standards.

To better understand this grammatical debate, let’s examine each phrase individually:

  1. Most important: This phrase, when used as an adjective, operates to modify a noun (e.g., “The most important factor is…”). However, some writers also use it as a sentence adverb. In this capacity, “most important” modifies an entire statement, elucidating the idea that the information being presented is of utmost significance.
  2. Most importantly: This adverbial phrase, by contrast, specifically works as a sentence adverb. It functions to modify, comment on, or emphasize the meaning of an entire sentence, rather than simply acting as an adjective.

Given the grammatical soundness of both phrases, the choice between “most important” and “most importantly” ultimately boils down to a writer’s style and preference. By fully understanding these language correctness elements, one can make a more informed decision and consistently apply these phrases in their writing.

Contemporary Usage: Which is More Acceptable Today?

In our ever-evolving language landscape, the debate between “most important” and “most importantly” continues to evolve. As recent linguistic studies, contemporary grammar, and language research findings shed light on this topic, it’s essential to consider usage guide recommendations and language style manuals to make well-informed grammar suggestions.

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Insights from Recent Linguistic Research

Recent research has shown a shift in preference towards “most importantly” in modern English, with increasing acceptance among both language experts and the general public. The once-strong opposition to the use of “importantly” has dwindled, and language authorities now acknowledge that both phrases are standard and widely accepted.

“The prevalence of ‘most importantly’ has been on the rise, with growing acceptance in academic and professional circles.”

How Modern Usage Guides Address the Phrases

Contemporary usage guide recommendations play an essential role in establishing a general consensus regarding the phrases in question. Notable language style manuals, such as Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage and Garner’s Modern English Usage, provide valuable insights into current linguistic preferences.

  1. Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage: Advocates for the acceptance of both “most important” and “most importantly,” dismissing the grammatical objections often raised against the latter.
  2. Garner’s Modern English Usage: Encourages writers to choose between the two phrases based on the context of their sentence and their personal writing style, emphasizing that both expressions are now considered acceptable in modern English.

Ultimately, these respected language authorities underscore the growing flexibility in contemporary English grammar and promote the legitimacy and acceptance of both “most important” and “most importantly.”

The Role of Personal Preference and Context in Grammar

In determining whether to use “most important” or “most importantly,” personal preference and the context of writing play crucial roles. While usage guides might provide recommendations, the distinction often comes down to the writer’s style, the intended audience, and the tone of the piece. This allows for a nuanced approach where both options are viable, whether in formal or informal writing.

Understanding the Nuance Between Formal and Informal Writing

Formal and informal writing styles are influenced by various factors, including the writer’s writing style choices, the target audience, and the primary purpose of the text. Each style has its own unique set of rules and characteristics.

Formal writing typically adheres to standard grammar and punctuation rules, utilizing more complex sentence structures and avoiding colloquial expressions. On the other hand, informal writing tends to be more conversational, using simple sentence structures and accepting some deviations from standard grammar rules.

To better understand how personal preference and context impact the choice between “most important” and “most importantly,” let’s explore some factors to consider when making this decision:

  1. Consider your intended audience. For example, if you are writing an academic paper or a formal report, you might opt for the more traditional “most important.” However, if your audience is more casual, such as when writing a blog post or engaging in online discussions, “most importantly” might be more appropriate.
  2. Analyze the overall tone of your piece. If you are aiming for a more serious, scholarly tone, “most important” may be the better choice. In contrast, if you are adopting a conversational, casual tone, “most importantly” might come across as friendlier and more approachable to your readers.
  3. Be consistent in your choice of grammar. If you predominantly use formal grammar throughout your text, it might be best to maintain that consistency by choosing “most important.” Conversely, if your writing style leans more towards informal grammar, “most importantly” may be a better fit.
  4. Ultimately, trust your instincts. If you have a personal preference, don’t be afraid to make a choice based on that preference. Just ensure that your decision does not negatively impact the clarity of your message or impede your overall communication goals.
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As language evolves and both “most important” and “most importantly” become widely accepted in contextual language use, it’s essential to remember that, in most cases, the distinction between the two will not significantly impact the effectiveness of your writing. By focusing on personal preference, context, and addressing your reader’s needs, you can strike a balance between the two and craft thoughtful, engaging content.

Final Thoughts on Selecting Between “Most Importantly” and “Most Important”

As the linguistic community gradually embraces a more inclusive and flexible approach towards grammar usage, the ongoing debate about whether to use “most important” or “most importantly” has become less contentious. Both options are now considered grammatically sound and ideal for emphasizing a point within a sentence. Your language decision-making is ultimately a subjective matter.

When it comes to effective writing, it is essential to maintain clarity and focus on the overall communication goal. This can be achieved by considering your grammatical preferences, as well as the tone and context of your work. Keep in mind that consistency throughout your writing is key, regardless of whether you prefer the traditional “important” or the increasingly prevalent “importantly.”

In conclusion, your grammar selections should cater to your writing style, the intended audience, and the unique characteristics of your piece. By understanding the nuances between “most important” and “most importantly,” you have the freedom to make informed decisions that ultimately enhance your writing and showcase your linguistic prowess. Remember, the most critical aspect of grammar is ensuring that your message resonates with readers, and that their understanding of your work is as clear as possible.