• 3-minute read
  • 6th January 2020

Word Choice: Between vs. Among

Usually, we deal with homophones in our Word Choice posts. But today we’re looking at two words that don’t sound even vaguely alike: “between” and “among.” Despite differing in pronunciation, these terms overlap in meaning. As such, it can be tricky to know which to use.

Between (Gaps and Connections)

“Between” can be a preposition or an adverb and has many definitions. However, two main uses are important for us here. One is to refer to a gap or space separating two things. For example:

I swam between the sharks.

You shouldn’t snack between meals.

The other use is to indicate a connection involving two or more things:

There is a strong link between proofreading and academic achievement.

Tim, Eric, and Melody argued between themselves.

In either case, “between” is the correct term.

Among (Situation or Division)

“Among” (or “amongst”) has several definitions, too, but it is always a preposition. As above, we’ll focus on two definitions here. The first is to indicate that something is situated within or in relation to several things:

I swam among the sharks.

This means that the speaker had sharks all around them. The other use is to indicate a relationship, choice, or division between three or more things:

The triplets argued among themselves.

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As you can see, there are similarities between “between” and “among” in these uses. But are these terms interchangeable? Let’s take a look.

Summary: Between or Among?

Let’s review what we’ve learnt so far. In most situations:

  • Between is only used when discussing two things (or groups of things)
  • Among is used when referring to three or more 

For example, swimming “between” two things implies passing through a gap, but swimming “among” several things implies being surrounded by them.

However, when discussing a relationship, the rule is slightly different. In this case, “between” is preferred when discussing several things that are individually named or identified, not just when describing two things. We can see this if we compare two of the examples above:

Tim, Eric, and Melody argued between themselves.

The triplets argued among themselves.

In the first, we use “between” because “Tim, Eric, and Melody” are named individuals. In the second, we use “among” because the triplets are unnamed.

“Between” is also preferred when talking about differences, so we might say:

There are many distinctions between shark species.

This statement isn’t limited to just two species of shark, but “between” is still correct since it refers to a difference. Keep this in mind when discussing relationships between several things.

Finally, if you ever need help with word choice in a document, you can always try our expert proofreading services.

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