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In one of my posts (Are "beaten" and "punched" interchangeable in some situations?) I said

"Alice was beaten to death."

"Alice was punched to death."

Do they mean the same?

I found lots of learners use the same expression, e.g. "Do the two clauses mean the same?", "Do these two sentences mean the same?", "they mean the same or not?", etc.

I also found lots of answerers use expressions like "mean the same thing", which has an extra "thing". For example, a nice answer says

"defined as" and "defined to be" both mean the same thing ...

Is that extra "thing" optional or necessary? In other words, are "mean the same" and "mean the same thing" interchangeable in any cases?

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"mean the same" is actually not correct grammar. The reason for this is that the direct object of a verb ("to mean") needs to be a noun of some kind. However "same" is not a noun, it is an adjective, which means it needs to have some other noun to modify.

So this is why the normal expression is "they mean the same thing". "thing" is the noun, which is modified by the adjective "same".

Alternatively, you can say something like:

They have the same meaning.

This is also OK, because here "same" is modifying the noun "meaning".

(Note, occasionally you will find "the same" used as a noun, but this is generally only in certain fixed expressions (such as "the very same"), not a general usage.)

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  • I guess I learned somewhere that "the rich" could be used as a noun, or something like that. The pattern is the + adjective. – WXJ96163 Mar 21 at 0:27
  • "the" + an adjective can be used to form a collective noun, but because it is a collective noun, it is used to group together multiple distinct things, specifically "all people or things" which have that common property. That is, "the rich" means "all the rich people". "same" doesn't really work that way, because you can't have multiple different things that are all "same", pretty much by definition. – Foogod Mar 21 at 0:37
  • I don't know/care what some grammarian might offer as an analysis of They mean the same since it's likely to be a one-off thing, like an idiom, or just new usage, whatever (is long time no see grammatical?), but what I do know is that people (native speakers of Standard English) use it (e.g. here). The phrase/construction is therefore definitionally part of the English language. However, since it might "grate" on some people's ears, using They mean the same thing is advisable. – user3395 Mar 21 at 0:52
  • Well, to my ear "Do they mean the same?" makes me think that the person speaking is probably not a native English speaker, because it is generally only non-native speakers I have ever heard say that. It's possible it's a more common emerging idiom I just haven't encountered, but at the very least, since it's technically not correct grammar, people should be aware that it's only appropriate for casual conversation and may reflect poorly if used in more formal contexts. – Foogod Mar 21 at 1:02

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