Sometimes you want to say that things are ‘the same’ and you look it up in the dictionary and find these translations: derselbe, dieselbe, dasselbe and more and also der Gleiche, die Gleiche, das Gleiche and more.
Looks bad enough to tear your hair out?
Actually, it looks worse than it is.
Let’s look at the two main words dasselbe, das Gleiche. Both mean the same, but there is a slight difference between them.
Dasselbe means it is the one and only thing, something unique.
For example, look at the picture of the two cars. Mine is the silver one, so I would say ‘Mein Auto ist ein Peugeot’. My partner could say ‘ich habe dasselbe Auto’ because, well it’s our car and we share it. My son, however, could say ‘Ich habe das gleiche Auto’ because he also has a Peugeot, the dark blue one, but that’s a 306 and not a 206, and it’s his and not mine. So dasselbe means exactly the same unique item (tip, it’s also spelled as one word, because there’s only one). Das Gleiche means it looks like the other one (tip, that’s why it’s spelled as two words, it’s not unique, only similar).
That was the first hurdle. Now for the next question; Why can ‘the same’ be derselbe, dieselbe, dasselbe …
Those of you who know a lot about German grammar can probably guess – it all depends on whether the noun that follows is masculine, feminine, neuter or plural and whether it’s the subject, direct object, indirect object or whether it’s after a preposition.
Here is the grid with all the possible options for both translations:
And here are some example sentences:
(These two girls are twins and on the day they went to a Victorian School Day, they allowed me to take a picture of their dresses.)
Die Mädchen tragen das gleiche Kleid. The girls are wearing the same dress.
Die Mädchen targen die gleichen Schuhe und Socken. The girls are wearing the same shoes and socks.
But: Die Mädchen haben denselben Geburtstag. The girls have the same birthday (because they’re twins)
Sie haben am selben Tag Geburtstag. Their birthday is the same day.
Sie wohnen in demselben Haus. They live in the same house.
Sie essen den gleichen Apfel would mean they are eating the same type of apple.
Sie essen denselben Apfel would mean they are sharing one apple.
That just leaves one more question: Why do we sometimes write ‘das gleiche’ and other times ‘das Gleiche’?
If ‘gleiche’ is the adjective, then we don’t need a capital letter, eg das gleiche Kleid, der gleiche Pullover …
If ‘Gleiche’ is the noun, then it needs the capital letter. So, looking at the twins again, one could either say to the other ‘ich trage das gleiche Kleid’ (I’m wearing the same dress) or ‘ich trage das Gleiche’ (I’m wearing the same one)
If you find this easy (or at least easier) now, then well done. If you still not really sure, don’t worry too much, as a lot of Germans aren’t sure either. And luckily it doesn’t matter too much either, as the rules aren’t obeyed as strictly as they used to be.
But if you like to be precise, here is a great video which also explains it.Dasselbe? Das Gleiche? I now know exactly what they mean! Click To Tweet