Among vs. amongst

Amongst is a variant of among. There is no difference between them. While amongst is fairly common—though still rare compared to among—in British, Australian, and Canadian English, it is rare in American English and may even have an archaic ring.

The -st at the end of amongst is a holdover from a period of English in which sounds were added to words (usually nouns) to make adverbs. Other examples of words inflected this way include alwaysoncewhence, and unawares, and there are a few other -st adverbs such as whilst and amidst.

Examples

Though relatively rare, amongst is not absent from American English—for example:

Despite a year with no movie that distinctly stands out amongst its peers, David Fincher and “The Social Network” have been cleaning up at the early award shows. [The Massachusetts Daily Collegian]

While both the Wildcats and the Blue Devils are amongst the top five teams in the state, what happens from here on out is what really matters to both coaches and their wrestlers. [Charlotte Observer]

Amongst is unquestioned in British English, where it appears about once for every 18 instances of among. In these examples, note how the meaning of the sentence would be unchanged if among were used instead:

The overwhelming view amongst Scotland’s chattering classes is that Tommy Sheridan got off comparatively lightly in being jailed for three years at the High Court in Glasgow yesterday. [The Telegraph]

In and amongst his various reshuffles, Guidolin also had an epiphany. [Guardian]

Comments

  1. Mama Tracy says:

    Huh.

  2. As a re-transplanted New Englander, with two New Englander parents, I’ve definitely noticed we in Massachusetts have way more Britishisms in our English than, say, someone in Charlotte would.

  3. smileoftdecade says:

    I would say that “amongst” is used for when a singular, (indivual being or object) as written about, is then mentioned as being immersed in a larger group.
    So in your second example above, “among the chattering classes” should NOT be changed to amongst, there is no individual mentioned it is a sentence about the group.
    Whereas if I were to say, “when John got into the conference he found he was amongst the chattering classes” – in that instance “amongst” is better than “among”.
    I doubt there is any logic or evidence back up for this but it is a feeling I wonder if others share?

    P.S> I am a Brit with no bias against modern American adaptations of the language – but like Eddie Izzard, I think Herbs has an H at the front…

    • Lincoln Maurice says:

      I taught the opposite in school:
      “He was among the brightest students in the class, and his class was amongst the brightest students in the school.”

      But “herb” does have an “H” at the front, I completely agree with you there. And with history, helium, and a whole enclave of other words. Pretty much most “h” words other than “honour”, frankly.

      • smileoftdecade says:

        yes – I see your point – I am always intrigued as to how conventions can become regarded as “laws” – even when alternative conventions are just as valid…

        as for Hs – we can have fun with “An Hotel” there too – a grammar I was taught but which no one uses in speech… :-)

        • slowchaos says:

          Use “an” before “hotel”? Really? Not something I was taught in school. That doesn’t even roll off the tongue.

          An Herb DOES have an “H”.

    • I admire and share this intuition. The added suffix “-st” seems to add a specificity or singularity to the root.
      Incidentally I hold an argument against your criticism of the second sentence. Would not the subject of the sentence would be the, singular, “overwhelming view” and not the “chattering classes.” The view may have even been originally proposed by this “John” you speak of… Perhaps during a time in which several political controversies surrounding the Tommy Sheridan case raged among the chattering classes of Scotland? ;)

      • smileoftdecade says:

        I’ve lost track of the original context now! – but I would never wish to get too pedantic or rule-bound. I just know when it feels better to say among and amongst – whereas in some other debated word use I find I don’t get that feeling at all. The intriguing thing is how usage diverges and merges internationally…

        I constantly pick up my fellow Englishmen for decrying American use of “Gotten” when it is well rooted in 16th Century English writings in precisely the context used in America… also “Soccer” –
        If they are going to complain about “Americanisms” it looks very dumb when they originate from the UK… :-)

    • Kristal McKinstry says:

      I had a similar feeling, except that I see the difference as regarding the specificity of the preposition, not that of the subject. ‘Amongst’ implies ‘lost in a sea of’, whilst (a word worthy of another discussion) ‘among’ implies among those enumerable. Chattering classes is more of something to be amongst, while species is more of something to be among. – However the specificity of the subject can also create such a relative context.

  4. We can’t use among before a word starting with vovel in that situation we can only use amongest like Distribute the mangoes amoung us. it will be wrong because ‘us’ is a word starting with a vovel so will use amongst only instead of among . correct me if i am wrong.

    • Jonathan Cohen says:

      My feeling too, in which case the example:
      “The overwhelming view amongst Scotland’s chattering…”
      is actually WRONG

      • slowchaos says:

        “The overwhelming view among Scotland’s chattering…”
        “Amongst all the chatter there came a soft voice crying…”

        That is how I would use them …

  5. Sean McGrew says:

    “He lost one of his shoes among the cabbages, and the other shoe amongst the potatoes.” Beatrix Potter, in Peter Rabbit

    • Frederick Lutjohann says:

      I think there is no place for among or amongst in that sentence, The shoe was lost in the cabbage field. ; because you are using the article The before the word cabbages.

      • slowchaos says:

        Could not disagree more. ‘He lost on of his shoes among the cabbages” gives one a totally different mental image from “He lost one of his shoes in the cabbage field”.

    • Jonathan Cohen says:

      Great example – and the other way around would have been fine too.
      I’ve read that sentence sooo many times, first as a child, then as a father, and these days as Gramps.

  6. Amongst the Awoken.

  7. Personally, I use “amongst” to mean “physicallly in the midst of.”
    Ex: He stood amongst giant redwoods.
    And I use among for all other cases when between is wrong because of having 3+ items.
    Exs. “Between you and me” vs. “Let’s keep this confidential among us here in this room.”
    Now, I never researched the among vs. amongst, but I went with my ear and my gut.

  8. Alastair Stell says:

    Rubbish. Among and Amongst are distinct words for particular circumstances. I would not, for instance, say “I walked among the flower beds”. I would instead say “I walked amongst the flower beds”. On the other hand I would say “Among other things we share in common” and not “Amongst other things we share in common”.

    The problem with Americans is they are slovenly and uncaring for their own language. As another example, consider the two words “learned” and “learnt”. Most Americans are completely unaware that “learnt” even exists as a word, and consequently “learned” is used in all cases regardless of how inappropriate.

    The French, by the way, say l’herbe and they DO pronounce the “H”. As a consequence, so do the British. I wonder how Americans pronounce Le Havre?

    • Nick Rowley says:

      They generally don’t?

      • No, as Shawn McHale noted below, the “h” is not pronounced in French as it is in English. A distinction is made however between a “silent ‘h’,” which is elided ( l’hôtel) and an essentially “aspirated ‘h,'” wherein there is a brief pause between the first sound and the second, except the “h” is still not pronounced, only the vowel coming thereafter.) If there is an apostrophe between the article or pronoun and the noun, the “h” is elided. If there is a space between the word, the “h” is aspirated.

    • Shawn McHale says:

      To contribute to the digression — no, the French do NOT pronounce the “h” in herbe. The example you give of “l’herbe” is a perfect example — the “h” is silent. Even without the definite article, “herbe” is pronounced with a silent “h.” Don’t believe me? Just check out the online Larousse dictionary.

    • slowchaos says:

      The problem with many Brits is the same as it has always been – they think they’re superior. Brits are also slovenly with their form of English. There would be no such thing as “Old English” if they were not. Language changes, get over it.

  9. Augustine B. Wleh, says:

    Making my comment on these syllables Among and Amongst. There is a distinction between these words. one is used in a Plural and Singular perspectives. For a brief emphasis on Among: “We all make the different among our classmates” and Amongst: “Amongst the midst of my classmates I show the difference

  10. Oblate Onion says:

    All this debate about the st. Just apply the rules of the language even if they are mostly extinct. They are not extinct in this case. Thou hast –> second person singular . END OF STORY!!! If Amongst happens to have an st on the end of it, then it is second person singular. Geez you would think that nobody knows english here! So If it is plural or not second person you do not get to put an st is that so hard?

  11. Cavid Hummatov says:

    hey there, im not native speaker so i desperately need someone for clearing it up for me. When i say “im the best among other players” i know that this exactly means im the best all of them” but if i use “im amongst the best” or “his acting and vocals are amongst the best” does that mean im one of the best players? his acting and vocals are one of the best?
    thnx in advance.

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