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'Between' Versus 'Among'

The traditional rule you may have learned about between and among is a myth.

By
Mignon Fogarty,
May 12, 2016
Episode #516

Page 1 of 2

Today we're going to talk about the difference between the words between and among.

You may have noticed that I said we are going to talk about the difference "between" the words between and among. I used the word between because I was talking about a choice that involves two distinct words. 

Many people believe between should be used for choices involving two items and among for choices that involve more than two items. That can get you to the right answer some of the time, but it's not that simple (1, 2, 3, 4, 5). 

Here's the deal: You can use the word between when you are talking about distinct, individual items even if there are more than two of them. For example, you could say, "She chose between Harvard, Brown, and Yale" because the colleges are individual things. 

Relationships

The Chicago Manual of Style describes these as one-to-one relationships. Sometimes they are between two items, groups, or people, as in these examples:

Choose between Squiggly and Aardvark.

Let's keep this between you and me.

Other times they can be between more than two items, groups, or people as in these examples:

The negotiations between the cheerleaders, the dance squad, and the flag team were going well despite the confetti incident. 

The differences between English, Chinese, and Arabic are significant.

On the other hand, you use among when you are talking about things that aren't distinct items or individuals. For example, if you were talking about colleges collectively you could say, "She chose among the Ivy League schools."

If you are talking about a group of people, you also use among:

Fear spread among the hostages.

The scandal caused a division among the fans.

Squiggly and Aardvark are among the residents featured in the newsletter.

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