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Between and Among (The Difference)

The Quick Answer
Should I use between or among?

Between is usually used with two — but sometimes more than two — separate and distinct things. For example:
  • The map is between the palm tree and the hut.
  • What is the difference between hate, loathing, and disdain?
Among is used to portray the idea of being in a group or in the midst of a group. For example:
  • I want to live among like-minded people.
  • Share these sweets among yourselves.

Between and Among

There is sometimes confusion over the words between and among. This is understandable because the difference is subtle. (Of note, between and among are both prepositions.)

Between

The word between is usually used to describe something being in the middle of two other things. For example:
  • She was trapped between molten lava and the sea.
  • I hid the note between two rocks.
  • The cameraman was between the zebras and the pride.
When used in this way, between is used with two separate, distinct things (e.g., lava and the sea, a rock and another rock, zebra and the pride).

The words separate and distinct are important because you only use between when the things that follow are separate and distinct. Of course, between is used in other meanings too other than telling us where things are located, but the words that follow between are always separate and distinct things. For example:
  • Sadness is but a wall between two gardens. (Khalil Gibran)
  • Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower. (Steve Jobs)
  • (When a comparison is being offered for separate and distinct things, use between.)
  • The difference between the impossible and the possible lies in a man's determination. (Tommy Lasorda)

Between Can Be Used with More Than Two Things

It is a common misconception that between is used with two things and among is used with three or more things. In fact, between can be used with three or more things as long as they are separate and distinct. For example:
  • Share the sweets between Peter, Paul, Fred, and Dan.
  • Education is a shared commitment between dedicated teachers, motivated students, and enthusiastic parents with high expectations. (Bob Beauprez)

Among

The word among is usually used to portray the idea of being part of a group or in the midst of a group. Among is usually followed by a plural noun. For example:
  • If you live among wolves you have to act like a wolf. (Nikita Khrushchev)
  • (The term wolves does not portray separate and distinct things. It portrays a group.)
  • There is honour among thieves.
  • (The term thieves does not portray separate and distinct things. It portrays a group.)
  • There is nothing more likely to start disagreement among people or countries than an agreement. (E B White)
  • (Be careful. This does not refer to disagreement between people and countries but to disagreement among people and to disagreement among countries.)
  • We find comfort among those who agree with us and growth among those who don't. (Frank A Clark)
Interactive Test
 
 
Top Tip

Between and Among

Here is an infographic to help you remember that between is used for separate and distinct things and among is used to portray the idea of being in the midst of a group.


Between Makes the Things Separate and Distinct

Be aware that using between will portray the things that follow as separate and distinct. In the example, below the use of between creates two distinct sets of trees (i.e., those on the left and those on the right).