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I'm not too sure about the declination of the word 'hart' in the following sentence:

"einmaliges Vergehen sofort härtestens zu bestrafen"

I know a solution for this would be to say "einmaliges Vergehen aufs Härteste bestrafen", but I'm not quite satisfied with that '^^

What would be correct and why? Thanks in advance.

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    Welcome to German.SE. I'm neither sure about it either regarding any rules. Your example seems just fine to me. And I know other internet dudes maintain thinks like wiktionary: de.wiktionary.org/wiki/Flexion:hart - so either this already helps or someone else might use it for an answer. Nov 2 '21 at 12:32
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In his answer tofro has clarified the grammatical status of forms like "härtestens" (adverbial usage of the elative). One should also have a look at this Wikipedia article.

However, it remains open whether the word "härtestens" really exists. One cannot find it in the Duden or in other dictionaries ("official sources") which indicates that it does not belong to standard German. Nevertheless it is used in everyday language as shown by a Google search for "härtestens zu bestrafen" or "härtestens bestrafen". It seems to me that the development of used vocabulary is faster than the publication of new editions of the Duden.

The word "härtestens" is certainly immediately understandable in the given context and therefore I would not be surprised if it will eventually be included into the official vocabulary.

A similar word as "härtestens" is "strengstens"- and this can be found in the Duden. One more example is "schärfstens".

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Note you're looking for a word that simply doesn't exist ("härtestens").

Some adjectives have forms that describe the absolute superlative of the adjective - without actually being the superlative (not comparing to something specific, but just pointing out the utmost possible extent), but rather an elative form (My take is that English calls this the absolute superlative as well). Your example is the adverbial usage of the elative.

schnell - schneller - am schnellsten vs. schnellstens

dringend - dringender - am dringendsten vs. dringendst

gut - besser - am besten vs. bestens

spät - später - am spätesten vs. spätestens

This elative form does only exist for some selected adjectives, for "hart" as in your example the elative form simply does not exist.

For adjectives that don't have a commonly used elative form, the elative must be paraphrased - "aufs Härteste", "in härtester Form/auf härteste Weise", "härtestmöglich" or simply "so hart wie möglich" might be amongst suitable paraphrases.

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    Why do you think "härtestens" does not exist? Perhaps you do not find it in Duden, but nevertheless it is used in everyday language. Make a Google search for "härtestens zu bestrafen" or "härtestens bestrafen".
    – Paul Frost
    Nov 2 '21 at 18:21
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    I disagree that it 'does not exist'. It sounds to me maybe not common yet quite normal. Nov 2 '21 at 18:51
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    The fact that it can be formed according to a "rule" that works well for other, similar, words and that it is easily understood by most German speakers [citation needed], even if it's rare, shows that even if it's not in the Duden, people should be free to use it if it suits their purpose the best. Nov 2 '21 at 21:23
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    I mean, it does sound a little weird, but also I've never heard of irregular verbs/adverbs/adjectives in german, so I guess it's not a "wrong" word, but still uncommon.
    – Kobrabiss
    Nov 2 '21 at 23:27
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    @tofro Right, the web contains much nonsense and lingiustically incorrect stuff. And advertisements often produce intentionally weird expressions. But you cannot deny that some originally incorrect words or phrases later enter into standard German. Nov 3 '21 at 12:16

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