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    Among and Between

    Friday, April 18, 2014

    Creative Commons photo by berr.e on Flickr

    English is called a living language because the words and rules are constantly changing to fit a changing world. The words among and between are good examples of this flux. The simple rule has been to “use between when referring to only two things, and among when referring to more than two.” But following this rule unswervingly results in awkward constructions.

    It is correct to use between when considering one-to-one relationships, no matter the number of individuals or things, and no matter if that number is unspecified (see third example here):

    The choice for vice president is between Raynar and Kimberlie.

    We must decide between New Orleans, Galveston, and Tampa for our vacation destination.

    In this global economy, cooperation between nations is paramount.

    On the other hand, it is correct to use among to portray meanings such as these—in the midst of, in a group, or to distribute:

    The guests felt at ease because they were among friends.

    Marcia is among the elite when it comes to her management skills.

    The will divided the property among Kris, Linette, and Vaughn.

    Here is an example sentence that uses both words correctly:

    Traveling on the roads that stretched between the small towns, the reporter wandered among the field hands and asked questions.

    It’s important to stay abreast of changes in the language. Be careful, though, to avoid trendy phrases that quickly become dated. Our blog and our mid-month eTips newsletter can help.

    —Joyce Lee