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I found a page in Japanese with title "世界でもっとも汚染された10の都市". Having encountered the phrase 「もっとも」 for the first time, I looked it up on WWWJDIC and found two entries:

尤も 【もっとも】 (adj-na,adv,conj,n) quite right; plausible; natural; but then; although;

最も 【もっとも】 (adv) most; extremely;

Since the page is about world's dirtiest cities, I assumed that the もっとも used in the page title is the second one 最も that means "most, extremely". However, should I have not known what the page is about, I think I would have not known which of the two もっとも is the one used in the title since both of them can be used an adverb. Since WWWJDIC example sentence for 尤も is using it as a noun, I tried to look for sample sentences that use 尤も as an adverb with not much luck.

Are there scenarios where 尤も is commonly used as an adverb? If it's rare, is it safe to assume that if もっとも is used as an adverb in a sentence, it is most probably 最も, otherwise if it's not used as an adverb it is most probably 尤も?

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Keep in mind that 尤 is a pre-level 1 kanji according to 漢字辞典, so it's not a kanji that a native speaker of a high school graduate would normally even use/know. –  Ken Li Aug 18 '11 at 15:36
    
@Ken This question is not really about the kanji, but about how to distinguish between the two もっとも if found written in hiragana in sentences. I use the kanji to make it easier to see which もっとも I'm referring to in the question. –  Lukman Aug 18 '11 at 15:41
    
yeah I know, it does hint you on how often the kanji is used this way though, since it's a Kanji that's somewhat archaic. Just keep in mind that outside of academic settings like SE you should probably not use it as well. –  Ken Li Aug 18 '11 at 15:45

1 Answer 1

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Ignoring the difference in kanji, there are three common meanings of もっとも.

(1) (adverb) most
(2) (na-adjective) reasonable
(3) (conjunction) but, however

When written in kanji, 1 is 最も (Daijirin and Daijisen) and 2 and 3 are 尤も (Daijirin and Daijisen). There was an adverb もっとも which meant “undoubtedly” and “at all” and was written as 尤も, but this usage is archaic.

So, the answer to your question

is it safe to assume that if もっとも is used as an adverb in a sentence, it is most probably 最も, otherwise if it's not used as an adverb it is most probably 尤も?

is yes, but note that 尤も has two different meanings (2 and 3).

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What about when used as noun? Does it follow the na-adjective meaning? (since na-adjective is basically noun) –  Lukman Aug 18 '11 at 15:48
    
I do not know what WWWJDIC refers to as a noun 尤も. It may be the case that they confused the na-adjective with a noun. In general, I do not trust their classification very much. –  Tsuyoshi Ito Aug 18 '11 at 20:37

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