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This was prompted by another post on SE. "I have the exact same problem"

I know that 'the exact' is truly horrible used in that way, & that it should be 'exactly the'.
What I don't know is what makes it horrible, grammatically.

My long-forgotten English classes in school would make me think exactly would be an adverb, like "John runs quickly", just because of the -ly ending but it doesn't ring true. Either it a) doesn't obviously link to any attendant verb in the original example, or b) the attendant verb is to be = have, or c) I'm barking up completely the wrong tree.

The more I analyse it, the deeper the hole I appear to dig for myself.

4

I'm not sure why OP thinks the exact same is a "truly horrible" usage. It's perfectly natural to ordinary native speakers, but here on painintheenglish.com is the somewhat obscure rationale as to why some pedantic grammarians object to it...

Is “She was wearing the exact same outfit” grammatical? And if so, what part of speech is “exact”?

People use that phrase all the time, and seem to think it’s correct, so from a descriptive viewpoint it is correct. “Same” is clearly an adjective, and “exact” modifies “same”, so you would expect it to be an adverb.

So what’s the problem? Well, Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th edition) doesn’t list “exact” as an adverb. It can only be an adjective (or a verb, with a different meaning). The adverb form is “exactly”. So if you take Webster as an authority, you should say “She was wearing exactly the same outfit” instead.

If you follow that link, you'll see quite a few comments after the above text. They mostly seem to be from competent native speakers, and the vast majority of them defend the usage (either by saying it's idiomatically ubiquitous, so by definition it's valid, or by taking issue with the adverb/adjective distinction as used in the argument).


Note that the exact same/exactly the same issue has been covered on ELU by The use of “exact same” and Shouldn't “the exact same” always be “exactly the same”?. Also note that because the exact same is more recent, and much less common than exactly the same people tend to look for a subtle semantic distinction.

In most contexts I don't think there is any difference, but non-standard phrasing = non-standard meaning is an established aspect of English, so it could make a difference if, for example, you used both within the same conversation...

"We drive exactly the same car!" (our two cars are the same make/model)
"To be specific, we drive the exact same car!" (actually, there's only one car, which we both drive)

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  • just to pick up one one or 2 parts - I think the 'ordinary native speakers' must be US Eng; it sounds terrible to UK Eng ears, unless, as you point out at the end, it is for emphasis, 'the exact same car'. I wasn't, btw, looking for small semantic shading, but for how the two are different parts of speech - your links helped, thank you. "...the use of an adjective for an adverb. In this phrase "exact" modifies "same" and is functioning as and adverb..." precisely explains it to me. For similar reasons "Think Different" always made me itch. – gone fishin' again. Nov 10 '14 at 18:26
  • Yeah, it makes the grammarians itch too. So did Winston tastes good like a cigarette should back in the 1950s and 1960s. – Jason S Nov 10 '14 at 18:47
  • @Tetsujin: Comparing US/UK corpuses in my more recent, and much less common link above does suggest the newer usage is as yet still significantly more common in AmE. But I'm a BrE speaker, and I certainly don't find it in the least "horrible/terrible". If anything, the biggest surprise to me was discovering just how much it's gained traction over my lifetime (I thought it had always been around as a less common alternative). – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Nov 10 '14 at 19:16
  • Google Ngrams shows that 'exactly the same' has been used in BrEng and USEng since about 1650 (and is still far more common). 'the exact same' rose about equally in both Br and US around 1980, so objections to it may be due to recency rather than anything specifically grammatical. – Sydney Nov 10 '14 at 23:44
2

Don't forget, adverbs can modify adjectives as well as verbs:

  • He bought a badly maintained automobile.
  • That's a wonderfully small cat.

The two sentences you gave

I have the exact same problem.

I have exactly the same problem.

are both idiomatic American English, so I wouldn't call "exact same" truly horrible. The claim is that "exact" modifies "same", and you can't have an adjective modifying another adjective, so that's why it should be "exactly". But if you consider that "exact" and "same" are both adjectives modifying the noun "problem", it's no different from "big huge ball".

The sentence

I have the exactly same problem.

is unidiomatic. The sentence

I have the very same problem.

is idiomatic.

Go figure -- English is full of craziness.

I would highly suggest you watch this short video on Lolly's Inc. to help with your adverbs. :-)

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  • 'He bought a bad maintained car' would hurt a lot more than 'that's a wonderful small cat' - but I get your point ;) Thanks for the link, I'll watch it later. – gone fishin' again. Nov 10 '14 at 18:32
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I think the PO's question relates to the basic rules of grammar on adjectives and adverbs.

According to the rule, we can not use an adjective to modify another adjective. How come we can say I have the exact (adjective) same (adjective) problem? An adjective modifies a noun. It's an adverb that modifies not only a verb but also an adjective. So the right sentence is "I have exactly the same problem" (the adverb "exactly" modifying the adjective "same"). I don't think there is any confusion about the use of exact and exactly.

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