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Throughout your Spanish journey, many things will be the same.

You’ll be wearing the same t-shirt as somebody else.

The person you’re exchanging glances with on the bus will get off at the same stop you do.

You’ll be at a convenience store, reaching for the last tub of chocolate fudge brownie ice cream while somebody else will try to do the same.

What’s the best way to remark about the sameness of these moments in Spanish?

You have two handy tools at your disposal: {artículo} mismo and igual.

It’s easy to get them mixed up, so let’s see what makes them tick.

{Artículo} mismo

Before you can use mismo to convey sameness, you need a definite article. To know which one, focus on the thing you’re talking about:

—Me encanta el vestido que llevas. Yo tengo el mismo pero en verde.
“I love the dress you’re wearing. I have the same one but in green. “
—¿Ah, sí? Pues parece que tenemos los mismos gustos a la hora de vestir.
“Oh, really? Well, it looks like we have the same taste(s) when it comes to dressing.”
—Vamos a tener que empezar a coordinarnos para no llevar la misma ropa al trabajo.
“We’re going to have to start coordinating (ourselves) to avoid wearing the same outfit to work.”
—O mejor te digo en qué tiendas me compro yo la ropa, para que no vayas a las mismas. 😜
“Or (even) better, I (can) tell you in what stores I buy clothes (for myself), so you won’t go to the same ones.”

The gender and number of the noun will determine your choice. Gustos is masculine plural, so we use los. Ropa is feminine singular, so we use la. Easy.

It’s the same for vestido and tiendas, but since we were already talking about these two nouns before mismo showed up, we omit them to avoid the Department of Redundancy Department.

Ok, so are el, la, los and las the only definite articles?

No, they’re not. There’s one more.

Lo mismo: the abstract gatekeeper

Spanish doesn’t have neuter nouns, but it does have a neuter definite article: lo. This lo has nothing to do with the direct object lo, which is a personal pronoun. To tell them apart, use this simple rule:

lo verb = personal pronoun (Dámelo, que lo quiero ya.)
lo not-a-verb = neuter definite article (Lo más barato no es siempre lo mejor)

Besides lo, the other famous members of the Spanish neuter club you’ve probably come across are ello, esto, eso and aquello. These guys have found their niche in Spanish as gatekeepers of abstract concepts.

Whenever you want to talk about vague or general concepts, pull out the neuter card:

—Me encanta cómo te has vestido hoy. Yo me puse lo mismo ayer.
“I love your outfit today. I wore the same (thing) yesterday.”
—¿En serio? No sabía que las dos nos habíamos comprado lo mismo.
“Seriously? I didn’t know that we had both bought the same (thing)
—Vamos a tener que empezar a coordinarnos para no llevar lo mismo al trabajo.
“We’re going to have to start coordinating to avoid wearing the same (thing) to work.”
—O mejor te digo dónde me compro yo la ropa, para que no hagas tú lo mismo. 😜
“Or (even) better, I (can) tell you where I buy clothes (for myself), so you won’t do the same (thing).”

You shouldn’t use lo mismo when talking about living things like humans, cats and porcupines because they’re not abstract concepts; for everything else, feel free to use of the sophisticated reasoning abilities of your evolved primate brain.

Cuánta razón tenía Kierkegaard cuando dijo que el nihilismo existencialista no era lo mismo que el esencialismo postmodernista.
Kierkegaard was so right when he said that existential nihilism wasn’t the same as postmodernist essentialism.

Igual

When modifying a noun, {artículo} mismo and igual have pretty much the same meaning.

Ayer Raquel llevó un vestido que era igual que el mío.
Yesterday Raquel wore a dress that was the same as mine.

Ayer Raquel llevó un vestido que era el mismo que el mío.
Yesterday Rachel wore a dress that was the same as mine.

However, there are two important differences between {artículo} mismo and igual.

The first difference is that besides “the same thing”, igual can also mean “in the same way” (in other words, it can work as an adverb, modifying adjectives, verbs, and other things besides nouns).

For example, watch how igual modifies a verb (vestirse) and an adjective (guapas):

Ayer Raquel se vistió igual que yo, así que íbamos las dos igual de guapas.
Yesterday Raquel dressed herself just like me (in the same way), so we both looked just as pretty (in the same beautiful way).

You can use igual de {adjetivo} to mean just as {adjective}.

The second difference is that if you want to indicate that two things are literally the same, you cannot use igual, you have to use {artículo} mismo:

Todos los supermercados son iguales, nunca ponen las galletas saladas en el mismo pasillo que los nachos.
All the supermarkets are the same (not literally), they never put crackers in (literally) the same aisle as the nachos.

The Spanish Takeaway

On an ironic turn of events, this exploration of sameness has become an exploration of differences between {artículo} mismo and igual. Here are the highlights:

  • Mismo needs a definite article. Use el, la, los, las for specific things, and lo for abstract concepts.

  • When igual and iguales are modifying a noun, they usually mean the same thing as el mismo, la misma, los mismos, las mismas. Tu móvil es igual que el mío. Tu móvil es el mismo que el mío. Most of the time, mismo will mean “literally the same”, but sometimes mismo will simply be used for emphasis.

  • Unlike {artículo} mismo, igual can also work as an adverb (it can modify verbs, adjectives and other adverbs). Me siento igual de cansado que tú.

  • If you are talking about literal sameness, you can only use {artículo} mismo. Aurora y yo vivimos en la misma casa.

  • Bonus takeaway: ¿Se dice «pensamos lo mismo» o «pensamos igual»?. Welcome to hair-splitting territory: if you use lo mismo, it means you literally think or believe the same abstract thing; if you use igual, it means you think about things in the same way. 80% of the time lo mismo and igual will be interchangeable, so don’t sweat it.

Where the Rubber Meets the Road

Time to stop the passive intake and move on to active Spanish production. The following sentences should come out of your Spanish brain containing {artículo} mismo or igual.

Before you get started, remember two things:

  1. This is language, not math. The guidelines above are meant to help you develop your intuition. They’re not universal formulas.

  2. On the first pass, go with your gut. On the second pass, check your answers (spellcheck, Google Search, Google Translate, preferably in that order). Once you’re confident you can’t learn any more on your own, you can submit. Remember that the more you self-correct, the more you’ll remember.

S1: My friend and I like the same girl, but we’re not jealous.

S2: I don’t understand why beer costs the same as water in this town.

S3: The same thing happens in my country.

S4: We got off at the same bus stop and that’s when everything started.

S5: It seems to me that we’re not talking about the same (thing).

S6: I don’t care, she can decide (lit: it’s the same for me, may she decide).

S7: I’m not sure we’re speaking the same language.

S8: The meaning of both expressions is the same.

S9: This book is the same as that one, but in Spanish

If you want the official answers, post your attempt below or email it to me and I’ll send you a personalized comment.

Have fun in your Spanish journey!

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