I have been wondering in my head when is it more appropriate grammatically and more appropriate in terms of the English language to use word selfsame instead of same.

The research that I have done suggests that 'same' can be used as an adjective and a pronoun and as an adverb. While selfsame can only be used as an adjective. So comparably it would appear to be only a subset of grammatical cases where its used. That being said, I am having still having trouble imagining a sentence or a set of rules to follow that indicate when you should use selfsame instead of same.

Google define gives this example:

He was standing in the selfsame spot you're filling now.

But I can easily see 'same' replacing 'selfsame' without an apparent change in meaning of the sentence.

  • 2
    What research have you done? Dec 11, 2013 at 17:42
  • 1
    Some might deem the selfsame spot to be a needlessly wordy synonym for the shorter the very spot. The OED now marks selfsame as being in literary use only, where it means the very same or identical.
    – tchrist
    Dec 11, 2013 at 19:44

3 Answers 3


Macmillan has:


used for emphasizing that something is exactly the same as another thing

He asked me the selfsame question.

So you wouldn't say 'the colours orange and amber are nearly the selfsame' or 'orange is the selfsame as amber'.

You'd use it when adding emphasis:

This is the selfsame room we had when we stayed here 25 years ago!

But probably not for the less dramatic news:

This is the same room we had when we were on our way to the Grand Canyon last week.

I wouldn't agree that the usage is formal, but I would say it's not used too often in colloquial speech.


The essential difference is that while "same" can be used in relation to things that are identical in appearance and other properties (same genus), "selfsame" will denote one thing reappearing in other circumstances.

This car has the same engine as in the one my brother sold last year!

This car's engine is the selfsame as in the one my brother sold last year!

In the first case it will mean the engine is the same model, but doesn't imply it comes from the brother's former car. In the latter case that specific engine was moved from brother's car to the one in question.

In many cases the two will mean the same thing (often 'the same' will apply to that particular instance, "same place" simply used without the extra emphasis of "not a different instance of the same kind of place") but "selfsame" won't be used for "different, but looking the same".

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    The OED notes that the predicative use you demonstrate above is now “rare” — and that absolute or substantive senses are now “obsolete”.
    – tchrist
    Dec 11, 2013 at 19:46

we use "self and same" as in "I saw that self and same thing yesterday" ---- this is simply a way or means of emphasising a fact.

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