Generally, sentences are constructed like this:

Compared to Joe, he looks similar.
Compared to Joe, he looks different.
Compared to Joe, he looks handsome.
Compared to Joe, he looks ugly.

Yet, when it comes to "same", a sentence would be considered ungrammatical if it was written as:

Compared to Joe, he looks same.

Instead, it should be written as:

Compared to Joe, he looks the same.

Is there a reason for this quirk?


I'm interested in the "why" of this topic. I wonder if this peculiar treatment of "same" developed due to functors that are synonymous with "same", such as "as". Just as functors are somewhat special in grammar, I wonder if that inclined special use of "same" in grammar too.

  • 4
    Related ELU question: Can you use “same” without “the”? Oct 20, 2018 at 5:44
  • Where "the same" is a predicative, we normally use "the", which serves as a dependent of the adjective, i.e. "the" modifies "same".
    – BillJ
    Oct 20, 2018 at 14:14
  • 1
    A linguistically sophisticated analysis would not attempt to pin an unchanging POS label on a word like same, which is more part of the grammar than the lexicon. As Wittgenstein put it, "What causes most trouble in philosophy is that we are tempted to describe the use of important 'odd-job' words as though they were words with regular functions."
    – jlawler
    Oct 20, 2018 at 17:23
  • 1
    @abcjme You didn't ask what part of speech it is. But I can tell you that "same" is an adjective and "the" is a determinative that modifies it. That "same" is an adjective is evident from the fact that it can be modified by "very" ("the very same as ..."). Always look for the evidence. What is so difficult about that?
    – BillJ
    Oct 21, 2018 at 11:01
  • 1
    @abcjme: the whole of the answer to nearly all question about language that start "why" is "Because that's the way it is". Language happens, over centuries and millenian. It is almost never consciously moulded. We can explain how some change happened, but in most cases there's no real answer to why that change happened (and others didn't).
    – Colin Fine
    Oct 31, 2021 at 21:39

2 Answers 2


Actually there is something interesting with "same". In Old English, it was (almost?) invariably part of the construction swa sama, "in the same way". It has thus always been "bound" to something.

Its use after the definite article "the" or the determiners "this" or "that" moved same into the environment of Old English self and ilca, as "intensifiers" by the time of Middle English:

And the same Salomon seith that ‘he that travailleth and bisieth hym to tilien his land shal eten breed...

And that same Salomon said that ‘he who works and keeps himself busy to work his land will eat bread...

The Tale of Melibee from The Canterbury Tales, G. Chaucer (~1400)

One can even find examples of the + ilca having coalesced into one new determiner, and have same after it. Hence the following remark of Bremark (2010) concerning Middle English:

In these examples, the same is as a unit used as a sort of personal pronoun signalling anaphoric relations of identity within the text, equivalent to the endophoric uses of it, them, and to a lesser extent he.


Because in the sentence

Compared to Joe, he looks similar.

"similar" is an adjective, related to "he", while in

Compared to Joe, he looks the same.

"the" and "same' are related to an omitted but implied noun "person", "man", etc.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.