'Between' Versus 'Among'
The traditional rule you may have learned about between and among is a myth.
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Part of a Group
Among can also indicate that someone is part of a group or left out of a group, as in these examples:
He was glad to find a friend among enemies.
She felt like a stranger among friends.
Sylvia was later found living among the natives.
Between and among can also tell the reader different things about location or direction. Think about the difference between these two examples:
Squiggly walked between the trees.
Squiggly walked among the trees.
Squiggly walked between the trees gives you the idea that he stayed on the path; he either walked between two trees or was on a route that was surrounded by trees.
On the other hand, Squiggly walked among the trees gives you more of an idea that he wandered around a park or forest. He may have had an endpoint in mind, but it doesn't sound as if he went from point A to point B on a defined path.
1. Goldstein, N., ed. The Associated Press Stylebook and Libel Manual. Reading: Perseus Books, 1998, p. 12.
2. The American Heritage College Dictionary. Third edition. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1993, p. 132.
3. Burchfield, R.W., ed. The New Fowler's Modern English Usage. Third edition. New York: Oxford, 1996, p. 106.
4. Scharton, M., and Neuleib, J. Things Your Grammar Never Told You. New York: Longman, 2001, p. 61.
5. “among,” Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/amongst (accessed May 11, 2016).
Choose the correct word. If you choose “either,” explain the different meanings you get when you use each word.
1. Gloria had to choose [between/among/either] band practice and writing for the newspaper.
2. The conversation [between/among/either] the teachers, the parents, and the students lasted for two hours.
3. James was [between/among/either] the winners.
[Answer: either, but “between” indicates he was standing between two winners, whereas “among” indicates he was either one of the winner or in the midst of some winners.]
4. Gail and Dave are [between/among/either] the vacationers enjoying ice cream.
[Answer: either, but “between” indicates they are situated between two vacationers or groups of vacationers who are enjoying ice cream, whereas “among” indicates they are either enjoying ice cream themselves or are in the midst of a group of vacationers who are enjoying ice cream.]
5. Herbert is notorious [between/among/either] the locals.
6. The orchestra members talked [between/among/either] themselves.
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This article was originally published February 4, 2010 and updated May 12, 2016.