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I've seen "the least expensive" translated as 最便宜的. Does this inversion always have to happen, or is there a way to say "least"?

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    Is there any subtle difference between "the least expensive" and "the cheapest" in English? My understanding is "the least expensive" suggests "they are all expensive but this is the cheapest one". If I am right, the translation 最便宜的 (cheapest) cannot convey the nuance. "Least" in Chinese is 最少, 最不, so maybe "最不贵的" is better for "the least expensive". – Stan Jul 8 '16 at 11:32
  • for "least expensive" jukuu has 15 example sentences, 10 with 最便宜, and 1 each with 比较便宜, 花钱最少, 性价比(cost performance)最佳, 最低的成本,费用最低, which seems to suggest "least expensive" may often be thought of as "requiring the least expense, costing least" or "most inexpensive", – user6065 Jul 8 '16 at 15:56
  • @Stan yes that's how I hear it too, but it may also depend partly on context. But if someone tells me they're going to and me the "least heavy" box to cary, I'm going to understand that it's still going to be heavy. – pixelearth Jul 8 '16 at 18:23
  • simplicity may be a possible reason for prevalence of 最便宜 over 最不贵,besides one adjective, the former only involves 1 adverb,最, the latter 2,最,不 ,least expensive also only has 1 adverb – user6065 Jul 9 '16 at 5:12
  • @pixelearth In daily life, if someone tells you the box is "less heavy", there is a much higher chance that he is trying to play tricks with words with you. – SOFe Jul 12 '16 at 12:05
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As suggested by some comments, it depends on the context, and what you would like to stress with this phrase.

Without any context, it sounds exactly the same with "the cheapest". In this way, 不贵 is 便宜, 最便宜的 is the translation.

However, if you are trying to say all these things are expensive, but this one is the least expensive one among them, then 最不贵的 is better. However, when you use this phrase, your audience should either have the knowledge that all these things are expensive, or you should explicitly stress mention that. Otherwise, it doesn't sound natural.

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