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Conway Tw I Did The Best I Could, I Did The Best I Could

In one post, a commenter maintained that the phrases “I did my best” and “I did the best I could” don”t mean quite the same thing.

If it is true, what is the fine difference between the two?

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I”m the one who made that comment. I am a native English speaker. I will explain what I was thinking, though in preparing this answer I may have talked myself into accepting that there is no difference in meaning.

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Provided that “do one”s best” is an idiom, is “I did the best I could” a proper phrase to be used at all?

I don”t see why one phrase being an idiom has anything to do with whether another phrase is “proper”, but in any case “I did the best I could” is a common expression.

is there really a fine difference between the two?

The two phrases can be used interchangeably. The meaning is very similar, or, arguably, the same: the shared idiomatic meaning is that I tried as hard as I could.

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The reason I said that they don”t mean quite the same thing is that in my experience when someone says “I did the best I could”, what they mean but aren”t saying explicitly is “I did the best I could in the circumstances“. For example, in preparing dinner I did the best I could with the ingredients available in the refrigerator, but if I”d had time to go to the supermarket I could have bought more ingredients to cook something much nicer. Or in running a race I did the best I could given that I had the flu, but usually I”m a better runner than that.

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“I did my best” can be and often is used in exactly the same way: that in the circumstances I could not have done any better. But sometimes the literal meaning is intended, that the result is the best I am capable of in any circumstances – I have come across this intended meaning occasionally. I have never heard “I did the best I could” used to mean the best I”m capable of in any circumstances. So that is the subtle difference that I had in mind.

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I accept that not everyone will see any difference between the two. As I said at the beginning of my answer, I”m not sure that I see a difference anymore either. The two phrases do feel slightly different to me, but I can”t explain that any better than what I”ve already said. Sorry, I did the best I could…

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