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I teach English and today a student asked me about a construction that I had a hard time classifying. Anyway, I can't find it or similar examples in any of my books.

"Considered one of the most beautiful of the fine arts, ballet is..."

Why would we include the bold "of the" when we could just say "one of the most beautiful fine arts"? Well, I can feel the difference--by using "the" we define the group "fine arts" more clearly. Or we convey that we are familiar with exactly what that group contains. But what do we call this kind of alternation, and are there other, similar, constructions?

Thanks!
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The bold part (of the) means "among". Here's my example:

"The game "X-COM" is the most beatiful among (or: of the) games by Microprose."

It means that if we confine our view to the games created by Microprose, then X-COM is the most beatuful game in the group.
(adding to Ant's explanation:)
One of the many definitions for the word "of" is:

8. (used to indicate inclusion in a number, class, or whole): one of us.

So you can use "of" expressions following the superlative to show the class or group being compared:
Socrates was the most beloved of all philosophers.
Mirror mirror on the wall, who is the most beautiful of all?
The cheetah is the fastest of all land animals.
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Without "of the", you have an absolute superlative, or at least the possibility of taking the expression as containing this superlative instead of the comparative superlative. "most beautiful" thus means "very beautiful", "extremely beautiful". In this way, "most beautiful fine arts" tends to suggest that all of the fine arts are very beautiful. Here are some other uses of the absolute superlative:

The book was most interesting / most instructive. (No actual comparison with any other book.)
Our walk in the park was most invigorating. (No actual comparison with any other walk.)

[It is rare to hear the use of the absolute superlative in ordinary casual conversation these days.]

By using "of the" the writer is more certain that the reader will take this expression correctly as a comparative: Of all the fine arts / Taking into account all the fine arts, this one (ballet) is comparatively more beautiful than any of them.

CJ
Exactly how I see it too...!
Thank you, Jim. Your reply was most helpful. Emotion: smile I had not thought of the absolute superlative usage as a point of comparison. The student directly asked what the difference was between the same sentence with and without "of the"

Ballet is the most beautiful fine art.
Ballet is the most beautiful of the fine arts.

In both cases, it seems we have considered the others and are choosing the best via comparison. So, in terms of telling him how these two sentences are different, I had to say in the second one, it seems we've actually considered the defined set "fine arts," as indicated by the determiner "the."

It becomes clearer when we look at an example like this:

He is the smartest student.
He is the smartest of (all) the students.

In the second, it is obvious that I have a specific group of students defined whereas in the first, I may just be saying that without even having considered a specific group. Since we cannot determine whether a comparison is inherent in the first, would we also call that an absolute superlative? I feel like based on intonation, we may be able to indicate whether it is or not.
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nyxmythSince we cannot determine whether a comparison is inherent in the first, would we also call that an absolute superlative?
Whereof one cannot speak, one must remain silent. Emotion: smile
nyxmythI feel like based on intonation, we may be able to indicate whether it is or not.
The intonation would certainly help.

CJ