Between or Among?

What Is the Difference between "Between" and "Among"?

"Between" and "among" are easy to confuse.

"Between" is usually used with two — but sometimes more than two — separate and distinct things. For example:

  • The treasure is between the palm tree and the hut. correct tick
  • What is the difference between hate, loathing, and disdain? correct tick
"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. correct tick
  • Share these sweets among yourselves. correct tick

More about "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 or among?

"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).
between or among the trees?

Even More about "Between" and "Among"

The confusion over the words "between" and "among" 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. correct tick (Author Khalil Gibran)
  • Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower. correct tick (Apple founder 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. correct tick (Baseball manager 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. correct tick
  • Education is a shared commitment between dedicated teachers, motivated students, and enthusiastic parents with high expectations. correct tick (US Politician 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. correct tick (Former Premier of the Soviet Union Nikita Khrushchev)
  • (The term "wolves" does not portray separate and distinct things. It portrays a group.)
  • There is honour among thieves. correct tick
  • (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. correct tick (Author 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. correct tick (Lawyer Frank A Clark)

A Video Summary

Here is a short video summarizing this lesson. video lesson

Are you a visual learner? Do you prefer video to text? Here is a list of all our grammar videos.

author logo

This page was written by Craig Shrives.