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I've always avoided using the common phrase "the exact same" because it sounds incorrect to me (unless perhaps a comma were inserted thus: "the exact, same".) Shouldn't "the exact same" be "exactly the same"?

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SFAICT nobody inserts a comma in "the exact same"; the phrase can stand by itself, punctuation-less. Which to use seems to be a matter of taste (viz. "He keeps wearing the exact same pair of pants" vs. "He keeps wearing exactly the same pair of pants", but the former sounds better for me.) –  user730 Aug 24 '10 at 5:27
    
The British National Corpus reports that exactly the same is found in 1329 sentences, and exact same in 22 sentences. The Corpus of Contemporary American reports that in academic texts, exactly the same is used more times (6 times more) than exact time. –  kiamlaluno Aug 27 '10 at 10:39
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4 Answers

According to these Google Ngrams, both American and British English use exactly the same more than the exact same. Here is the usage in American English:

And here it is in British English:

Despite its usage, the exact same is considered informal (but is not deemed incorrect) by this site at Washington State University:

In casual speech we often say things like, “The fruitcake he gave me was the exact same one I’d given him last Christmas,” but in formal English the phrase is “exactly the same.”

However, there is a long discussion of the phrase which writes that:

The traditional construction is “exactly the same time,” with an adverb (“exactly”) properly modifying an adjective (“same”).

Critics of a phrase like “the exact same time” condemn it because “exact” (an adjective) is being used as an adverb (like “very”)....

Proponents of the phrase note, however:

Elsewhere, the Cambridge Grammar notes that noun phrases including “the same” often include modifiers to reflect varying degrees of sameness. Sometime modifiers come after “the” (as in “the very same mistake”), and sometimes before, as with “much,” “almost,” “roughly,” and “exactly.”

I would add “exact” to the list of modifiers that can follow “the” (as in “the exact same mistake”). In my opinion, this usage is acceptable in all but the most formal writing.

If you’d like another authority, The Columbia Guide to Standard American English also says “exact same” is “standard in all but the most formal and oratorical contexts.”

Both phrases are redundant, and the exact same can be considered correct or not depending on which style guide one subscribes to. An American English grammar guide specifically mentions that the phrase is mostly standard, and a British English guide notes that there are similar phrases. So use depends on context: in formal writing, avoid it, but in anything else the exact same can be (again, it depends on who you follow) acceptable.

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In British English, yes. "The exact same" sounds (to my British ears, at least) like an American phrase.

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It seems to me like "same" is being treated as a noun in this case and "exact" is an adjective, where both entities are being compared to a single noun "the exact same".

Mike's car and Jennifer's car are both the right car.

Mike's car and Jennifer's car are the exact same.

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I can imagine a slight difference.

Mike's car is exactly same car as Jennifer's.

So, Mike got the same make, model, color, and accessories as Jennifer did.

Mike's car is the exact same car as Jennifer's.

Mike's car not only looks like Jennifer's car, it is Jennifer's car. Maybe Mike bought it or borrowed it or stole it from Jennifer...

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