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Among and Between

Commonly Confused Words

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Among and Between

Adrienne Rich, On Lies, Secrets, and Silence (Norton, 1979)

The preposition among means in the company of, by the joint action of, or each with the other. The preposition between means by the common action of, in point of comparison to, from one to another, or by the combined effort of.

In general, between applies to reciprocal arrangements (one member to another member), and among applies to collective arrangements (with all members involved). However, as explained in the Oxford English Dictionary and in the usage notes below, between may apply to more than two members.

Examples:

  • "Among those whom I like or admire, I can find no common denominator, but among those whom I love, I can: all of them make me laugh." (W. H. Auden)

  • "The difference between the almost-right word and the right word is really a large matter: it's the difference between the lightning-bug and the lightning." (Mark Twain)

  • The consensus among pollsters is that the Democrats are set to pick up between 25 and 35 seats this fall.

Usage Notes:

  • "One divides money, goods, property between two persons, but among three or more. The distinction, however, is not so simple. When speaking either of group action, or of precise spatial relationship, one must use between, however many participants are involved; as in 'The children raised £25 between them,' or 'Switzerland lies between France, Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein, and Italy.'"
    (Eric Partridge, Usage and Abusage, ed. by Janet Whitcut. W.W. Norton & Co., 1995)


  • "These words share more common ground than they used to. Between was formerly reserved for situations where just two things or people were being related--shared between husband and wife--and among complemented it when there were three or more: shared among the relatives. The restriction on the use of between has certainly gone by the board, and Gowers declared it to be 'superstition' in Complete Plain Words (1954). It is not uncommon for between to be used in expressions referring to more than two groups or reference points, as in a balance between deference, quotation and his own critical comment. But among is still reserved for situations where there are at least three parties involved."
    (Pam Peters, The Cambridge Guide to English Usage. Cambridge Univ. Press, 2004)

Practice:

(a) Gangs are becoming more and more popular _____ younger children.

(b) As talks stalled over an impasse _____ the U.S. and China, discontent escalated _____ the 15 members of the Security Council.

(c) "One of the most striking differences _____ a cat and a lie is that a cat has only nine lives." (Mark Twain)


Answers to Practice Exercises

Glossary of Usage: Index of Commonly Confused Words

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