The Ironic Difference Between Igual and Mismo

February 22, 2017
<p>Throughout your Spanish journey, <strong>many things will be the same</strong>.</p><p>You'll be wearing the same t-shirt as somebody else.</p><p>The person you're exchanging glances with on the bus will get off at the same stop you do.</p><p>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.</p><p>What's the best way to remark about the sameness of these moments in Spanish?</p><p>You have two handy tools at your disposal: <strong><span class="sp">{artículo} mismo</span></strong> and <strong><span class="sp">igual</span></strong>.</p><p>It's easy to get them mixed up, so let's see what makes them tick.</p><h2><span class="sp">{Artículo} mismo</span></h2><p>Before you can use <span class="sp">mismo</span> to convey sameness, <strong>you need a definite article</strong>. To know which one, focus on the thing you're talking about:</p><div class="translation"><p><span class="sp">—Me encanta el <strong>vestido</strong> que llevas. Yo tengo <strong>el mismo</strong> pero en verde.</span><br><span class="en">"I love the dress you're wearing. I have <strong>the same one</strong> but in green. "</span><br><span class="sp">—¿Ah, sí? Pues parece que tenemos <strong>los mismos gustos</strong> a la hora de vestir.</span><br><span class="en">"Oh, really? Well, it looks like we have <strong>the same taste(s)</strong> when it comes to dressing."</span><br><span class="sp">—Vamos a tener que empezar a coordinarnos para no llevar <strong>la misma ropa</strong> al trabajo.</span><br><span class="en">"We're going to have to start coordinating (ourselves) to avoid wearing <strong>the same outfit</strong> to work."</span><br><span class="sp">—O mejor te digo en qué <strong>tiendas</strong> me compro yo la ropa, para que no vayas a <strong>las mismas</strong>. 😜</span><br><span class="en">"Or (even) better, I (can) tell you in what stores I buy clothes (for myself), so you won't go to <strong>the same ones</strong>."</span></p></div><p>The gender and number of the noun will determine your choice. <span class="sp">Gustos</span> is masculine plural, so we use <span class="sp">los</span>. <span class="sp">Ropa</span> is feminine singular, so we use <span class="sp">la</span>. Easy.</p><p>It's the same for <span class="sp">vestido</span> and <span class="sp">tiendas</span>, but since we were already talking about these two nouns before <span class="sp">mismo</span> showed up, we omit them to avoid the Department of Redundancy Department.</p><p>Ok, so are <span class="sp">el</span>, <span class="sp">la</span>, <span class="sp">los</span> and <span class="sp">las</span> the only definite articles?</p><p>No, they're not. There's one more.</p><h2><span class="sp">Lo mismo</span>: the abstract gatekeeper</h2><p>Spanish doesn't have neuter nouns, but it does have a <strong>neuter definite article: <span class="sp">lo</span></strong>. This <span class="sp">lo</span> has nothing to do with the direct object <span class="sp">lo</span>, which is a personal pronoun. To tell them apart, use this simple rule:</p><blockquote class="legacy-blockquote"><p><strong>lo</strong> verb = personal pronoun (<span class="sp">Dáme<strong>lo</strong>, que <strong>lo</strong> quiero ya.</span>)<br><strong>lo</strong> not-a-verb = neuter definite article (<span class="sp"><strong>Lo</strong> más barato no es siempre <strong>lo</strong> mejor</span>)</p></blockquote><p>Besides <span class="sp">lo</span>, the other famous members of the Spanish neuter club you've probably come across are <span class="sp">ello</span>, <span class="sp">esto</span>, <span class="sp">eso</span> and <span class="sp">aquello</span>. These guys have found their niche in Spanish as gatekeepers of <strong>abstract concepts</strong>.</p><p>Whenever you want to talk about vague or general concepts, pull out the neuter card:</p><div class="translation"><p><span class="sp">—Me encanta cómo te has vestido hoy. Yo me puse <strong>lo mismo</strong> ayer.</span><br><span class="en">"I love your outfit today. I wore <strong>the same (thing)</strong> yesterday."</span><br><span class="sp">—¿En serio? No sabía que las dos nos habíamos comprado <strong>lo mismo</strong>.</span><br><span class="en">"Seriously? I didn't know that we had both bought <strong>the same (thing)</strong>"</span><br><span class="sp">—Vamos a tener que empezar a coordinarnos para no llevar <strong>lo mismo</strong> al trabajo.</span><br><span class="en">"We're going to have to start coordinating to avoid wearing <strong>the same (thing)</strong> to work."</span><br><span class="sp">—O mejor te digo dónde me compro yo la ropa, para que no hagas tú <strong>lo mismo</strong>. 😜</span><br><span class="en">"Or (even) better, I (can) tell you where I buy clothes (for myself), so you won't do <strong>the same (thing)</strong>."</span></p></div><p><strong>You shouldn't use <span class="sp">lo mismo</span> when talking about living things</strong> 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.</p><div class="translation"><p><span class="sp">Cuánta razón tenía Kierkegaard cuando dijo que el nihilismo existencialista no era <strong>lo mismo</strong> que el esencialismo postmodernista.</span><br><span class="en">Kierkegaard was so right when he said that existential nihilism wasn't <strong>the same</strong> as postmodernist essentialism.</span></p></div><h2><span class="sp">Igual</span></h2><p>When modifying a noun, <span class="sp">{artículo} mismo</span> and <span class="sp">igual</span> have pretty much the same meaning.</p><div class="translation"><p><span class="sp">Ayer Raquel llevó un vestido que era <strong>igual</strong> que el mío.</span><br><span class="en">Yesterday Raquel wore a dress that was the same as mine.</span></p><p><span class="sp">Ayer Raquel llevó un vestido que era <strong>el mismo</strong> que el mío.</span><br><span class="en">Yesterday Rachel wore a dress that was the same as mine.</span></p></div><p>However, there are two important differences between <span class="sp">{artículo} mismo</span> and <span class="sp">igual</span>.</p><p>The first difference is that besides "the same thing", <strong><span class="sp">igual</span> can also mean "in the same way"</strong> (in other words, it can work as an adverb, modifying adjectives, verbs, and other things besides nouns).</p><p>For example, watch how <span class="sp">igual</span> modifies a verb (<span class="sp">vestirse</span>) and an adjective (<span class="sp">guapas</span>):</p><div class="translation"><p><span class="sp">Ayer Raquel <strong>se vistió igual</strong> que yo, así que íbamos las dos <strong>igual de guapas</strong>.</span><br><span class="en">Yesterday Raquel dressed herself just like me (in the same way), so we both looked just as pretty (in the same beautiful way).</span></p></div><blockquote class="legacy-blockquote"><p>You can use <strong><span class="sp">igual de {adjetivo}</span></strong> to mean <span class="en">just as {adjective}</span>.</p></blockquote><p>The second difference is that if you want to indicate that two things are <strong>literally the same</strong>, you cannot use <span class="sp">igual</span>, <strong>you have to use <span class="sp">{artículo} mismo</span></strong>:</p><div class="translation"><p><span class="sp">Todos los supermercados son <strong>iguales</strong>, nunca ponen las galletas saladas en <strong>el mismo pasillo</strong> que los nachos.</span><br><span class="en">All the supermarkets are <strong>the same</strong> (not literally), they never put crackers in (literally) <strong>the same aisle</strong> as the nachos.</span></p></div><h2>The Spanish Takeaway</h2><p>On an ironic turn of events, this exploration of sameness has become an exploration of differences between <span class="sp">{artículo} mismo</span> and <span class="sp">igual</span>. Here are the highlights:</p><ul><li><strong><span class="sp">Mismo</span> needs a definite article</strong>. Use <span class="sp">el</span>, <span class="sp">la</span>, <span class="sp">los</span>, <span class="sp">las</span> for specific things, and <span class="sp">lo</span> for abstract concepts.</p></li><li><p>When <span class="sp">igual</span> and <span class="sp">iguales</span> are modifying a noun, they <strong>usually mean the same thing</strong> as <span class="sp">el mismo, la misma, los mismos, las mismas</span>. <span class="sp">Tu móvil es <strong>igual</strong> que el mío</span>. <span class="sp">Tu móvil es <strong>el mismo</strong> que el mío.</span> Most of the time, <span class="sp">mismo</span> will mean "literally the same", but sometimes <span class="sp">mismo</span> will simply be used for emphasis.</p></li><li><p>Unlike <span class="sp">{artículo} mismo</span>, <strong><span class="sp">igual</span> can also work as an adverb</strong> (it can modify verbs, adjectives and other adverbs). <span class="sp">Me siento <strong>igual de cansado</strong> que tú</span>.</p></li><li><p>If you are talking about <strong>literal sameness</strong>, you can only <strong>use <span class="sp">{artículo} mismo</span></strong>. <span class="sp">Aurora y yo vivimos en <strong>la misma</strong> casa</span>.</p></li><li><p><strong>Bonus takeaway</strong>: <span class="sp">¿Se dice «pensamos lo mismo» o «pensamos igual»?</span>. Welcome to hair-splitting territory: if you use <span class="sp">lo mismo</span>, it means you literally think or believe the same abstract thing; if you use <span class="sp">igual</span>, it means you think about things in the same way. <strong>80% of the time <span class="sp">lo mismo</span> and <span class="sp">igual</span> will be interchangeable</strong>, so don't sweat it.</p></li></ul><h2>Where the Rubber Meets the Road</h2><p>Time to stop the passive intake and move on to <strong>active Spanish production</strong>. The following sentences should come out of your Spanish brain containing <span class="sp">{artículo} mismo</span> or <span class="sp">igual</span>.<p>Before you get started, remember two things:</p><ol><li><strong>This is language, not math</strong>. The guidelines above are meant to help you <strong>develop your intuition</strong>. They're not universal formulas.</li><li>On the first pass, go with your gut. On the second pass, <strong>check your answers</strong> (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 <strong>the more you self-correct, the more you'll remember</strong>.</li></ol><div class="translation translation--highlight-english"><p><span class="en">S1: My friend and I like the same girl, but we're not jealous.</span></p><p><span class="en">S2: I don't understand why beer costs the same as water in this town.</span></p><p><span class="en">S3: The same thing happens in my country.</span></p><p><span class="en">S4: We got off at the same bus stop and that's when everything started.</span></p><p><span class="en">S5: It seems to me that we're not talking about the same (thing).</span></p><p><span class="en">S6: I don't care, she can decide (lit: it's the same for me, may she decide).</span></p><p><span class="en">S7: I'm not sure we're speaking the same language.</span></p><p><span class="en">S8: The meaning of both expressions is the same.</span></p><p><span class="en">S9: This book is the same as that one, but in Spanish</span></p></div><p>If you want the official answers, post your attempt below or <a href="">email it to me</a> and I'll send you a personalized comment.</p><p>Have fun in your Spanish journey!</p>