Same Same, but different — dasselbe / das Gleiche
As we have often seen German has a knack for precison and accuracy, whereby many works are specific to one thing and can’t be used for multiple functions like is so commonly done in English. An example of this is that German has two words for “the same”. So when you’re standing there at the cheese counter and you’d also like 250 g of the Appenzeller like the person who just ordered before you, what do you say? “Den Gleichen, bitte.” or “Denselben, bitte.”?
The first hint that these two words are not identical is that they are written differently. Not only does one use “gleich” andt he other “selb” but they one is written together and the other separate. “Dasselbe” (derselbe, dieselbe, denselben …) means that something is not just identical, but the very same. On the other hand “das Gleiche” (der Gleiche, die Gleiche, den Gleichen…) means that something is a duplicate but is resembles the first object in every facet.
- Sie fuhren beide das gleiche Auto, hatten aber nicht dasselbe Ziel.
(They both drove the same car, but didn’t have the same destination.)
- Sie benutzen beide die gleiche elektoronische Zahnbürste, aber niemals dieselbe.
(They both use the same (model of) electric toothbrush, but never the same (each other’s) toothbrush.)
“Dasselbe” and all of its cognates is usually incorrectly used where “das Gleiche” ought to be used, that is when talking about having the same things like CDs, furniture, clothing etc. “Ich habe denselben Tisch auch!” is incorrect, because you don’t have the person’s table you have the same model of table. Correct is “Ich habe den gleichen Tisch auch!”
On the other hand to talk about “am gleichen Tag” or “im gleichen Jahr” is also incorrect. As monotonous as days and years may seem one is never the same to the other, so it either happens on the same day (am selben Tag) or in the same year “im selben Jahr” or it happens on another day or in an other year. No day is the same as the other and no year is identical.
Why the two words are written differently is answered by the understanding what kinds of words they are. “Gleich” is an adjective and according to German grammar rules can be turned into a noun by capitalizing it and can thus stand alone. “Selbe” on the other hand is a part of a demonstrative pronoun and cannot stand on its own, but must always be used in combination with a definite article.
***If you need a simpler way to remember the rule think:
das Gleiche = 2 words = 2 separate things
dasselbe = 1 word = 1 thing
For a further explanation see this short video from the German children’s program “Die Sendung mit der Maus” VIDEO
Dasselbe or das Gleiche? Remember to use the correct articles and change endings.
- “Ich habe _____________ Kleid zu Hause.”
- “Hannes und Janet wurden _____________ Tag geboren.”
- “Meine Frau und ich fahren mit _____________ Auto. Sie benutzt es montags, mittwochs und samstags und ich fahre mit ihm dienstags, donnerstags und freitags.”
- “Gestern haben meine Freundin und ich _____________ Computer gekauft.”
- “Die Melodie für die Nationalhymne von Liechtenstein ist _____________ wie die der Nationalhymne des Vereinigten Königreiches.”
das gleiche, am selben, demselben, die gleichen, die Gleiche