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Statements like "These pens are both the same" don't seem right. "These pens are the same" works. But for the first statement to work, it seems that one would have to be able to say, "This pen is the same. That pen is the same." Note that "These pens are both the same as that one" also works. Comments?

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  • Is "These pens are both the same as each other" acceptable to you? Commented Aug 12, 2021 at 18:30
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    Maybe not. The word "both" doesn't add anything. I guess it seems sloppy.
    – Glen
    Commented Aug 12, 2021 at 19:02
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    Both adds the information that there are two pens. And there are many ways in which two pens can be thought of as "the same" - same color, same amount of ink, same problems with using, same refills, etc... The more you emphasize the identity, the more dimensions of difference you lose: These two pens are exactly the same in every way. Commented Aug 12, 2021 at 20:34
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    When both appears after the verb like that, I expect two compliments. These pens are both the same and different. Both these pens are the same brand. Both performs a grouping operation, which you don't want if you are comparing or contrasting things to each other. Both these pens are the same as each other doesn't work for me.
    – Phil Sweet
    Commented Aug 12, 2021 at 22:22
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    Found a reference that's somewhat relevant - aje.com/arc/editing-tip-proper-use-term-both - "Both measurement A and measurement B had the same value. (Incorrect)"
    – Phil Sweet
    Commented Aug 12, 2021 at 22:30

6 Answers 6

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These pens are both the same.

The words on the page, absent context and intonation, are less informative than the words coming out of someone's mouth in a real-world situation.

The intended meaning would be something like "they're both out of ink" or "they're both balky and skip because they're old and the ink is mostly dried out". Or "you've showed me another ballpoint but I asked to see a sharpie." That is, "both the same" means "having a salient feature in common".

If the intended meaning is "identical in all respects", both would not appear in the utterance. I would find it unidiomatic.

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  • Yes, the example is not a good one. But your added contexts are helpful. Commented Oct 2, 2023 at 14:19
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  • Of such a burden, male twins, both alike

  • Strength match'd with strength, and power confronted power: Both are alike; and both alike we like.

  • Two households, both alike in dignity,

  • I would they were in Afric both together

  • The Douglas and the Hotspur both together

  • We'll both together lift our heads to heaven

  • And we will both together to the Tower

  • Like milk and blood being mingled both together

All from Shakespeare. So sloppy.

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All the offered constructions would have the same meaning to many English speakers. There may be different preferences in different regions.

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In a comment, John Lawler answered:

Both adds the information that there are two pens. And there are many ways in which two pens can be thought of as "the same" - same color, same amount of ink, same problems with using, same refills, etc... The more you emphasize the identity, the more dimensions of difference you lose: These two pens are exactly the same in every way.

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In a comment, Phil Sweet answered:

When both appears after the verb like that, I expect two [complements]. These pens are both the same and different. Both these pens are the same brand. Both performs a grouping operation, which you don't want if you are comparing or contrasting things to each other. Both these pens are the same as each other doesn't work for me.

And also:

Found a reference that's somewhat relevant - https://www.aje.com/arc/editing-tip-proper-use-term-both/ - "Both measurement A and measurement B had the same value. (Incorrect)"

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Statements like "These pens are both the same" don't seem right.

Yes. Suppose that Pens A, B and C are the same as one another; then, regarding Pens A and B,

Clear sentences:

  1. a) These pens are the same.

    b) These pens are the same as each other.

    c) Both these pens are the same as each other.

  2. Both these pens are the same as Pen C.

Confusing (is meaning 1 or 2 being intended?):

  1. Both these pens are the same.

Both measurement A and measurement B have the same value. (Incorrect)"

Yes, this sentence has the same issue as Sentence 3. Better:

  • Measurements A and B have the same value.
  • Measurements A and B are of equal value.
  • Measurements A and B are the same.
  • Measurements A and B are equal.

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