Between or Among?

by Craig Shrives

Between or Among?

Writers are often unsure whether to use "between" or "among."
  • "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.
    • 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.

    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?

    Click on the Two Correct Sentences
    (Interactive Game)

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    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. (Author Khalil Gibran)
    • Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower. (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. (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.
    • Education is a shared commitment between dedicated teachers, motivated students, and enthusiastic parents with high expectations. (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. (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.
    • (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. (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. (Lawyer Frank A Clark)

    A Video Summary

    Here is a short video summarizing this lesson.

    Interactive Exercise
    Here are three randomly selected questions from a larger exercise, which can be edited, printed to create an exercise worksheet, or sent via email to friends or students.

See Also

adverse or averse? affect or effect? appraise or apprise? avenge or revenge? bare or bear? complement or compliment? dependant or dependent? discreet or discrete? disinterested or uninterested? e.g. or i.e.? envy or jealousy? imply or infer? its or it's? material or materiel? poisonous or venomous? practice or practise? principal or principle? tenant or tenet? who's or whose? What are nouns? What are verbs? List of easily confused words