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I have read in a book that "An alternative to am schnellsten, am besten, etc. is the use of aufs schnellste, auf beste, etc."

I want to know more about "aufs". I know that "auf" means "to, on, up, ..." but what it literally means here? Could you explain more about this please?

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»Aufs« is a short form for »auf das« (like »don't« is a short form for »do not«), and »das« is an article for neuter nouns:

Der Rauchfangkehrer steigt auf das Dach.
Der Rauchfangkehrer steigt aufs Dach.
The chimney sweeper climbs onto the roof.

Der Bauer geht hinaus auf das Feld.
Der Bauer geht hinaus aufs Feld.
The farmer goes out to the field.

This works because Dach and Feld are neuter nouns. It does not word with male or female nouns, because they do not have the neuter article »das«:

Der Wirt stellt den Krug auf den Tisch. (»Tisch« is a male word)
(There is no standard German short form for »auf den«.)
The host puts the jug onto the table.

Der Bauer geht hinaus auf die Wiese. (»Wiese« is a female word)
(There is no short form for »auf die«.)
The farmer goes out to the grassland.


nominalized adjectives

But instead of normal nouns you also can use a special class of nouns, which are called »substantivierte Adjektive« (nominalized adjectives). Those words are NOT Adjectives! They are nouns, but they derive from adjectives. And because they are nouns, you have to write them with an uppercase first letter in German! And because they are nouns, they also can be used with an article. (In fact an article before a word that looks like an adjective is a very heavy hint for this word to be an nominalized adjective, i.e. a noun.)

You have nominalized adjectives in English too, but because you don't write nouns with uppercase first letter, you don't need to take care of it very much.

Here is an example:

The poor and the rich.

Here poor and rich are nouns. You can see it, because they do not describe an other word like every adjective does (like in »the poor man«, where poor is an attribute of man), and because both words have an article. (In »the poor man« it is the word man that has the article; not poor!)

In German there is a construction, where you take the superlative of an adjective, transform it into a noun, and then put »auf das« or »aufs« before this word, to use the hole thing like an adverb:

  • Positiv: gut (good)
  • Komparativ: besser (better)
  • Superlativ: am besten (best)

Make a noun of the superlative: der/die/das Beste (the best) (german nouns are always capitalized! So it has to be »das Beste«, not »das beste«!)

Put »auf« (to) before it: auf das Beste = aufs Beste (to the best)

Now use this group of words like an adverb:

Markus erledigt seine Arbeit aufs Beste.
Markus does his job to the best.

Of course, you could also use a real adverb:

Markus erledigt seine Arbeit bestens.
Markus does his job best.

Or you might also use the normal superlative:

Markus erledigt seine Arbeit am besten.
Markus does his job best.


capitalization of nouns

Keep in mind, that nouns in German are ALWAYS capitalized! There is no exception of this rule! So, when you say:

An alternative to am schnellsten, am besten, etc. is the use of aufs schnellste, auf beste, etc.

Then I have to answer, that this is wrong. This is correct (and don't forget the s at the end of aufs):

An alternative to »am schnellsten«, »am besten«, etc. is the use of »aufs Schnellste«, »aufs Beste«, etc.

  • A great answer. – Barth Zalewski Aug 4 '16 at 8:02
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  • Wirf’s einfach aufen Haufen!Willste aufe Fresse? Note that aufs beste/Beste, bestens and am besten have slightly different meanings and the last one is the most ambiguous. – Crissov Aug 4 '16 at 11:26
  • I personally feel a big difference between your examples. "aufs Beste" (to me) implies that he puts in his best effort, but is not necessarily the best. Even though "bestens" is technically not gradable (?; steigerbar), it still implies he is one of the best, others might be as good as him. "am besten" is the only one that clearly marks that Markus is indeed the best at doing his work. – Raketenolli Aug 4 '16 at 16:48
  • @Crissov: Ich sprach genau aus diesem Grund ausdrücklich von »standard German« – Hubert Schölnast Aug 4 '16 at 18:54
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There is an important difference I didn't spot in the other answers. Consider this comparison:

Jonas amüsiert sich gut, aber am besten amüsiert sich Johanna. / Jonas has a good time but Johanna has the best time (among all people).

For such comparisons, neither "aufs Beste", nor "bestens" are suited. After pondering for fifteen minutes, I dare propose that "bestens" and "aufs Beste" only compare the degrees of verbs. You could even say:

Jonas und Johanna amüsierten sich aufs Beste, am besten aber amüsierte sich Fritz./ Jonas and Johanna had a superb time, but Fritz had the best time (among all people).

Now let us try to find differences between the latter two! In the following sentence, both „aufs Beste“ and „bestens“ can be used without skewing the meaning (as "am besten" would!).

Jonas und Johanna pflegten ihn aufs Beste./Jonas and Johanna cared for him in the best manner.

This word for caring applies to sick, wounded... Finally consider a sentence where "aufs Beste" can't by used (and "am besten" skews the meaning):

Jonas fühlte sich bestens./ Jonas' mood was splendid.

It is my hypothesis (other users please help falsifying), that "aufs Beste" only collocates with activities which can be described with "auf die beste Weise".

Let me make it clear that "am besten" -and none of the others- can describe an awful performance among even worse ones:

Von den Schultes kocht Johanna am besten, aber auch ihr Fraß ist kaum genießbar!/ Amongst the Schultes, Johanna cooks best, but her crap is barely edible too!

I used the word for animal food, to insult Johanna's cooking.

Finally "am besten" -and not the rest- can compare between alternatives:

Du kommst am besten mit. / You'd best come with (me/us...).

"Am besten" may be used to compare alternatives described by entire clauses:

Der Tee schmeckt am besten, wenn er mit Wasser aufgebrüht wird, das über Bambusblätter gelaufen ist! / The tea tastes best, when brewed using water that has trickled down bamboo leaves!

  • Could you please translate your examples to English? – j.kh Aug 5 '16 at 5:52
  • @j.kh I did that, though I can not differentiate as finely in English as in my mother tongues... – Ludi Aug 5 '16 at 6:58
  • @j.kh I added an example, which might be important. – Ludi Aug 5 '16 at 7:18

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