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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!

  • 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 Mar 12 '15 at 17:55
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    We 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 Mar 12 '15 at 18:04
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    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. Mar 12 '15 at 18:41
  • 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 Mar 12 '15 at 18:56
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    @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. Mar 12 '15 at 22:55
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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].

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    Just 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. – Tetsujin Mar 12 '15 at 20:52
  • @Tetsujin I still haven't encountered "Please do the needful." – Ben Kovitz Mar 12 '15 at 23:40
  • 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. Mar 13 '15 at 4:15
  • "The boys are the same person?" or "The boys are the same child?" – LawrenceC Mar 13 '15 at 4:17
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    But 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. Mar 13 '15 at 4:17

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