In German both words, selbe and gleiche, mean something like same in English. But they have a subtle difference in meaning. Take a look at this sentence:

We eat the gleiche (=same) soup, but we do not eat the selbe (=same) soup.

As you can see in the picture below, both people eat the same (gleiche) kind of soup, but they don't eat from the same (selbe) bowl of soup.

silly picture of two stick figures, one green and one light pink, with his own orange bowl in front of each of them

  • 1
    Same means both things. You would say we're eating the same soup, and we have the same parents. You could use identical to mean gleiche, and selfsame to mean selbe, but usually people use same for both. There's usually no problem distinguishing the meanings by context. Aug 9 '15 at 21:20
  • And it will sound pretty weird to native English speakers if you say selfsame whenever you mean selbe and identical whenever you mean gleiche. Aug 9 '15 at 21:27
  • "gleiche" can be translated by "such as" or "alike", whilst "selbe" is generally (nearly always) translated by "same".
    – Graffito
    Aug 9 '15 at 21:28
  • Kind of could be inserted for the gleiche cases; We eat the same kind of soup. Aug 9 '15 at 22:14
  • @Graffito, you'd think that could cause confusion, switching "same kind" to "alike." In the illustrated situation, I'd use the verbs "have the same" and "share the same" if I were trying to avoid using "same kind."
    – stevesliva
    Aug 10 '15 at 4:27

"same" is used in both situations and if you mean "they are eating from the same bowl" you'd have to say "they are eating from the same bowl".

I believe that distinction, or specificity, cannot be found in Romance Languages either.

  • Eating from the same bowl (aus der selben Schüßel) would mean that two people are eating from one bowl. Eating from like bowls (aus einer gleichen Schüßel) means two people eating from two bowls that are similar. Aug 9 '15 at 21:40

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