Why do we say something is The same (using the article), but we say something is different (no article)?



We say "the same", but "different" (no article)? A student asked me this question, and I wasn't sure how to answer him. Thanks for your help!


Posted 2015-03-12T17:40:15.853

Reputation: 151

Funnily enough I can't think of a single sentence where you wouldn't pair the word "same" with the word "the". It's not correct to say "a same"... – Mark – 2015-03-12T17:55:30.480

1We do say *This is the same usage, but that is a different usage*. I'd say that's because there's only "one thing" which is *the* same, so it can be specifically identified. But there are lots of "other, different things", so we use the somewhat vaguer indefinite article to reference one of them. Contrast *"I don't want the same thing. I want the other one"*, as opposed to *"I want another one"*. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2015-03-12T18:04:34.470


If your student is a non-native speaker, just tell them that this same is a pronoun, but different is an adjective. If that doesn't work because they have no idea what pronouns and adjectives are, it will be a great time for them to start learning grammar! If that doesn't work because they want to know why one is a pronoun and the other is an adjective, you can pretend to give up and say "It's because", and ask about some oddities in their first language. ;-)

– Damkerng T. – 2015-03-12T18:41:58.070

English is not the only language where this is so. French and Spanish has it too. German does not- there is not article when saying something is the same versus saying something is different. Those are the only languages with which I am familiar (though rusty). I want to think it is a Latin versus Germanic/Teutonic thing and tied to the origins of the words- different is Latin and same is Norse. Just same "same difference" and you can use the article for both. ; ) – Gary – 2015-03-12T18:56:39.773

1@DamkerngT. - That should be an answer; you've unlocked the mystery. The counterpart to different is the adjective alike: These two cars are different, but those two cars are alike. – J.R. – 2015-03-12T22:55:06.067



Because the same is short for the same {noun}.

Quite a few modifiers can function as nouns if the is put in front of them, with the "real" noun being implied if there is one. Use of the article "the" signals that it's a noun (pronoun in the case of same).

Of course, if you use a/an, the noun needs to be explicit.

The sick [people] among us must be helped.

The sinful [followers] must be called to atone for their sins.

Don't throw out the bad [whatever] with the good [whatever].

Please do the needful [actions].


Posted 2015-03-12T17:40:15.853

Reputation: 31 841

1Just to note that I'd never heard the phrase "please do the needful" until I joined ELL - this is after 55 years as a native speaker - & it still sounds so not English. – gone fishin' again. – 2015-03-12T20:52:14.073

@Tetsujin I still haven't encountered "Please do the needful." – Ben Kovitz – 2015-03-12T23:40:55.340

What does your answer have to do with the OP's question? E.g. "The boys are the same" versus "The boys are different". Notice that the PCs can't be expanded into NPs, e.g. * "The boys are the same boys". – F.E. – 2015-03-13T04:15:27.650

"The boys are the same person?" or "The boys are the same child?" – LawrenceC – 2015-03-13T04:17:04.527

1But that's not what "the same" means here; it means that the boys have similar attributes, not that they are the same boys/persons. -- That is, "the same" seems to be an adjective phrase (not a NP). – F.E. – 2015-03-13T04:17:51.957

Ahh ... good point there. I did not consider that. – LawrenceC – 2015-03-13T04:19:00.360

I suspect that the "the" here, in "the same", might be a bit uglier to explain. There are some "the"s that don't function as a determiner, but rather, they function as a modifier. This might be one of those cases (and there might be some historical stuff involved here too, maybe). – F.E. – 2015-03-13T04:22:02.313

@Tetsujin please visit India! (copy: Ben) :P – Maulik V – 2015-03-13T05:00:22.250

@F.E. Do you think the same might be one word? We don't seem to be able to modify same. [In the phrase the very same the meaning of same is different. Compare "they are the same" and "they are the very same".] – Araucaria - Not here any more. – 2015-03-13T11:27:57.573

@Araucaria That could be one way to treat it. The expression appears to function differently at times (and so, perhaps maybe two different expressions). Consider "The boys are the same", where "the same" seems comparable to an AdjP (not a NP), where maybe it acts as a single grammatical word, similar to "The boys are tall"; ... – F.E. – 2015-03-13T18:43:25.060

@Araucaria (cont) and compare it to "The boys who took your dog and the boys who damaged your car are the same (boys)", where "the same" might not be a single whole constituent/phrase, but rather two separate elements (Det + Adj) of a NP (fused head). But I'm talking off the top of my head, with no daily coffee yet. CGEL discusses this, if I recall correctly. It's a messy topic, imo, all the different uses of "the". Maybe someone who has the time and resources might explain this. – F.E. – 2015-03-13T18:49:49.553