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The dictionary gives the meanings marginal and maximum for предельный, which are practically opposites. Consequently I don't know how to interpret it in the following passage:

Не утруждая себя приветствием, он с предельной категоричностью заявил:

– Эй вы! Имейте в виду, я ни на секунду не считаю себя вашим пленником.

How would a native interpret this?

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  • 1
    Exceptional. So out of your two options, the latter.
    – RegDwight
    Aug 1 '14 at 17:39
  • That makes no sense at all.
    – CocoPop
    Aug 1 '14 at 17:40
  • It sure makes sense to me. In fact this question wouldn't exist if it didn't. If you think one of the options makes no sense, you wouldn't be considering it.
    – RegDwight
    Aug 1 '14 at 17:42
  • "utmost" is a synonym of "maximum" and is the perfect suggestion: with the utmost rigidity. Exceptional means (1) considered an exception to something; or (2) extraordinary, magnificent, wonderful. How then would one say "he announced with exceptional rigidity" ?
    – CocoPop
    Aug 1 '14 at 17:47
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I believe utmost more fits your example:

Not bothering to greet anyone, he announced with the utmost rigidity:
- Hey you! Don't think for a second that I'm going to be your prisoner!

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  • Utmost is fine, but the rest reads like straight from Google Translate.
    – RegDwight
    Aug 1 '14 at 17:43
  • Yup, it is from Google Translate. It's because my english is not good enought, sorry.
    – Dmitry
    Aug 1 '14 at 17:45
  • "Not bothering with a greeting, he most categorically declared." Something like that.
    – RegDwight
    Aug 1 '14 at 17:48
  • Thank you! Horrible translation, but perfect suggestion!
    – CocoPop
    Aug 1 '14 at 17:48
  • 2
    Dmitry, this is the translation: Not bothering to greet anyone, he announced with the utmost rigidity: Hey you! Don't think for a second that I'm going to be your prisoner!"
    – CocoPop
    Aug 1 '14 at 17:50
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OK, I'll try to let you see how the word might make sense.

Start with a "предел"=limit.

Then предельный = taken to its limit = extreme. The quality pronounced as strong as it possibly could

  • (of course, there is also a more broad adjectival meaning "limit-related", extensively used in mathematics — for instance, "предельное значение" = limiting value/the value of a limit , "предельный переход" = limit transition, transition to a limit etc.)

Now you can think of it in two ways:

  • limit = go as far as you can → предельный = utmost
  • matematical limit of some value when ∆x → 0: предельный = marginal (showing how a function changes when you introduce an infinitesimal change to its variable)

Honestly, I do not know why would you chose the second meaning when there is clearly no calculus or economics involved :). Probably, the dictionaries should include some examples of very specific uses like these. Sometimes it takes me ages to sift through the minor meanings I would hardly ever need (that's why I love oxfordictionaries, with their elegant hierarchy of meanings and ready-to-use examples)

Now, back to your sentence. "Категоричный" means the opposite of being soft, tolerant, indirect and ready to change your opinion. So here's how the meaning would be understood:

  • He didn't even trouble himself with a greeting and said most adamantly: ...
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  • Thank you for your excellent clarification. I agree that dictionaries are lacking. I think they frown on people asking for definitions of words on this site, but sometimes you just need the natives to clear things up, wouldn't you agree?
    – CocoPop
    Aug 2 '14 at 13:22
  • I do. Quite often dictionaries do not explain clear differences because it is not their purpose. And I fully understand why printed dictionaries have little to no examples. However, for computer-based dictionaries, especially online ones, it is a must. Which one do you use for Russian? Lingvo is a good place to see the examples of use with Russian and English texts in parallel. However, it has a bit of a problem with "too many meanings" (that I previously mentioned) and sometimes does not work both ways, so you miss the words that are "just right".
    – Shady_arc
    Aug 2 '14 at 13:58
  • For instance, in Lingvo adamant can mean "категоричный" but "категоричный" does not list "adamant" amongst its translations. Fortunately, you can always open "Примеры" and, given that you can read both languages, see for yourself how the word can be interpreted depending on the context and overall style.
    – Shady_arc
    Aug 2 '14 at 14:01
  • I love Lingvo and use their примеры extensively. My only gripe is that the sources are so literary and outdated (both English and Russian). I also use linguee.ru which is also excellent, although the sources tend to be more business, news, etc. And finally, glosbe.com, which consists mainly of lines from movies, so it's more colloquial and "real" language.
    – CocoPop
    Aug 2 '14 at 14:07

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