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Question raised by my EFL students that I'm not entirely sure how to answer. I can't find anything through google.

Why do we say "the same", but not "the different"? I can speak their native language, so translation isn't really an issue, but I don't know why we say "the same" and "different".

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    When two things are identical, they match, so they form one thing, the same thing, the same. When two are different, they do not form one thing, there is no one different, so no the different. You could say 'the two' are distinct. – Yosef Baskin Jun 13 '17 at 2:38
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    or said another way: There is only one same. There are infinite differents. – Jim Jun 13 '17 at 3:10
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    Same is intrinsically definite; as noted, there is only one same. Different, however, is indefinite; That's a different hat/style/story than the one before gives no further information about hat, style, or story except that it's not the same as the one before. – John Lawler Jun 13 '17 at 3:23
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    different is an adjective, but difference is a noun, so you can say: "The difference between A and B is..." Whereas "the same" is short for "the same thing" where thing can be substituted by any noun. You can say "The different things we know about... bla, bla..." – Mari-Lou A Jun 13 '17 at 7:05
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    @WS2: But doesn't that counteract the indefinite nature of the previous comment? Once the difference (pun not intended) is made countable, it becomes definite and not indefinite. Hence the determinability also adds the definiteness. – gktscrk Jun 19 '17 at 19:43
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We say "the same [noun]" because the use of the word "same" indicates that the noun refers to something that has already been mentioned, or that we already know about—so we use the definite article before the noun phrase. "Same" can also be used with other determiners in appropriate circumstances, like "that same [noun]" (although it's hard to think of circumstances where it could be used with the indefinite article "a").

The word "different", as Yosef Baskin points out, does not indicate that we are talking about something already mentioned or already known. In fact, it suggests the opposite.

A word that can act either way is "other". Roughly speaking, when it refers to one of two things, both of which are known (or both of which can be inferred to exist), it is used with the definite article "the": "First I put on one shoe, then I put on the other [shoe]" (shoes are known to come in pairs). When it refers to "something else" that isn't already known to form a pair with the first thing mentioned, it is often used with the indefinite article, which is in most circumstances written together with the word: "Yesterday was a bad day, and it looks like today will be another."

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In a given situation if something is conceptualizd and when its prototype is presented, we say 'the same' as because it corroborates the notion of thing already formed where as if it doesn't, how can one specify it with a 'the' there? Or to put it the other way round, the concept of difference is not made specific and it will go on without ends and is nothing more than mentioning of a quality only. More to it, "same" is specific, different isn't. So it is different but what's the difference we know not.

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We do, it's just usually meaningless without specifiying the difference itself.

  • We are the same.
  • We are the disenfranchised.
  • We are the lost.
  • We are the different.

The first three make perfect sense, because they convey a complete message.

We are unified in that we are all [the same/disenfranchised/lost].

"We" is a group that is defined by a shared trait.

But the fourth example does not work this way. The message is not complete, we are missing key points of information:

  • How are we different?
  • Different from what?
  • What does it mean to be the different?

It just doesn't make sense. However, if you wrap it in some context, it starts to make more sense:

Our new President has divided the country. He only listens to those who are the same as him. But we are the different.

This makes more sense. Essentialy, it means:

We are unified in that we are all [different from/ignored by our President].

It still sounds stilted, but it does convey a meaningful message, now that we know what "we" are different from.


Grammatically, there is no difference between

Fortune favors the bold.

and

Our society favors the different.

Here, it's not as stilted as in the previous example, because it's clear from the context that "the different" means "those who are different from the mainstream".

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