Between vs Among: Navigating the Spaces in English


Hello there, wordsmiths and language lovers alike! If you’ve landed here, it means you’re on a quest for clarity. You’re probably eager to settle the epic battle of between vs among once and for all.

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What’s that? You weren’t aware there was a war raging in the realm of prepositions?

Fear not, we are here to enlighten you.

The Tale of Two Prepositions: A Curious Conundrum

Let’s get to the heart of the matter: What’s the difference between ‘between’ and ‘among’? Doesn’t it seem as if they’re used interchangeably, much like identical twins with a knack for causing confusion? You wouldn’t be alone in that line of thinking.

But, are they really the same? Is ‘between’ just a long-lost cousin of ‘among’? Is ‘among’ the prodigal son of ‘between’? Well, we’re about to unravel this mystery together. Grab your magnifying glass and deerstalker hat (optional, of course), and let’s dive in.

Between: The Bearer of Dual Relations

We often associate ‘between’ with a relationship involving two entities. And rightly so! ‘Between’ has long been the go-to preposition to express a bilateral relationship.

For instance, let’s consider the sentence: “There’s a secret tunnel between the bakery and the library.” Clearly, ‘between’ denotes the relationship involving two distinct places – the bakery and the library.

However, and here’s where the plot thickens, ‘between’ isn’t exclusively used for two entities. It can also be used for more than two, particularly when the entities are considered individually or distinctly.

Let’s take a look at an example: “Negotiations between the three countries have been successful.” Here, we’re talking about three entities, but they are distinct, thus ‘between’ is the star of the show.

Among: The Maestro of Multiplicity

Moving on to our other contestant, ‘among’ is the maestro when it comes to expressing relationships involving more than two entities when they’re considered collectively or non-distinctively.

Consider the sentence: “She felt at peace among the trees.” Here, ‘among’ indicates the relationship of the subject with the collective group of trees, not with each tree individually.

But, as with most things in English, there’s a caveat. ‘Among’ is also used when we’re talking about dividing or sharing something, even when it involves just two entities.


Check this out: “The property was divided among the two heirs.”

Between vs. Among: The Showdown

Okay, time for some examples to help solidify our understanding of these pesky prepositions. Can you spot the difference?

  1. The secret is safe between you, me, and the lamppost.
  2. The secret is safe among us.

In the first sentence, ‘between’ is used because each entity (you, me, and the lamppost) is individually implicated in keeping the secret. In the second sentence, ‘among’ is used because ‘us’ is considered collectively.

Let’s try another one. Which of the following is correct?

  1. The ball is between the dogs.
  2. The ball is among the dogs.

If you chose the second sentence, pat yourself on the back! ‘Among’ is used here because the ball is in the middle of a group of dogs considered collectively.

When Between and Among Collide: Cases of Confusion

Despite their differences, ‘between’ and ‘among’ sometimes end up in the same territory. When this happens, it’s like stepping into a linguistic twilight zone.

For instance, consider these sentences:

  1. She had to choose between strawberry, vanilla, and chocolate ice cream.
  2. She had to choose among strawberry, vanilla, and chocolate ice cream.

Both sentences are grammatically correct and convey the same idea. But depending on who you ask, one might sound more ‘right’ than the other.

In the first sentence, ‘between’ is used because the choices (strawberry, vanilla, chocolate) are considered distinctly. In the second sentence, ‘among’ could also work, especially if you consider the choices as a group of options.

Mastering Between and Among:
Practical Tips

Let’s arm you with some practical tips to navigate these tricky waters:

  1. When dealing with two distinct entities, always choose ‘between’.
  2. For more than two entities considered collectively, use ‘among’.
  3. If more than two entities are considered distinctly, ‘between’ can be your best friend.

Conclusion: Between vs Among – Clearing the Air

We’ve journeyed through the winding labyrinth of ‘between’ and ‘among’ and, hopefully, emerged with a clearer understanding. The essence of the matter is that both ‘between’ and ‘among’ have their distinct usages, but they can overlap at times.

Remember, English is a living, breathing language that often refuses to stick to hard and fast rules. So, even though we have these guidelines, sometimes you just have to go with what sounds right to you.

But, when in doubt, remember our secret handshake – the practical tips. They won’t let you down.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q1: Can ‘between’ be used only for two things?
No, ‘between’ can be used for more than two things, especially when the things are considered individually or distinctly.

Q2: Can ‘among’ be used for two things?
Usually, ‘among’ is used for more than two things, but it can be used for two things when considering division or distribution.

Q3: Can ‘between’ and ‘among’ be used interchangeably?
While there might be situations where both could work, it’s best to understand their distinct usages to employ them effectively. ‘Between’ is used for two or more things considered distinctly, and ‘among’ is used for more than two things considered collectively.

Q4: Is it incorrect to use ‘between’ when referring to a place that’s in the middle of more than two locations?
No, it’s not incorrect. If the locations are considered distinctly, ‘between’ would be an appropriate choice.

Q5: Do ‘between’ and ‘among’ have different meanings in different contexts?
In general, their meanings remain consistent across different contexts, with ‘between’ emphasizing individual relationships and ‘among’ emphasizing collective ones.

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