Among vs. Between – When to Use Each

Ever have to choose between two things? Or is it among two things? Knowing the difference is important for proper grammar usage and can help keep your readers from wondering what point you are trying to make.

The differences between among and between are subtle, but they have some very specific rules of use to follow. Take a look at the differences between these two words and learn how to use them in speech and writing.

Among vs. Between: What’s the Difference?

You may have heard the rule concerning the use of among vs. between, and that between should be used when referring to two things. Among should be used when referring to more than two things.

However, this quick trick isn’t exactly accurate, and there are other details you need to consider. Instead, remember the following to encompass the actual differences when using either word:

  • Use between when describing the differences between two things or when referring to distinct, individual relationships – even when there are more than two.
  • Use among when referring to indistinct, nonspecific relationships.

When to Use Among and Between in Sentences

These rules of use aren’t difficult to remember and, when applied, make perfect sense. Keep the following differences in mind concerning their expectations of use when dealing with an explanation of relationships, as part of groups, and when giving direction or instruction.

When Explaining Relationships

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When explaining one-to-one relationships, you aren’t restricted to just two items. One-to-one relationships can be defined as two items, people, or groups. In this case, you use between.

For example:

  • You’ll be allowed to choose between shop and art classes next spring semester.
  • The argument was between Sam and Jonathon, so I stayed out of it.

You also use between when describing the relationships between more than two items, groups, or people as long as they are distinct and specific.

For example:

  • It was hard to pick between the Spanish, French, and German classes.
  • Instead of choosing between chocolate, vanilla, or mint – I got a scoop of each.

Use among when describing one-on-one relationships between nonspecific items, groups, or people.

For example:

  • Surprise spread among the party-goers when the concert started.
  • It wasn’t hard to see the division among the students during voting years.

As Parts of a Group or Groups

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Among also words to describe a person who is part, or left out of, a group.

For example:

  • Robert spent years living among the natives while he built his photography portfolio.
  • After the fight, they treated him like a stranger among friends.

To Provide Location or Direction

Use between and among to let your audience know different things about directions or location. The use of between provides information that indicates the use of a specific route or direction.

For example:

  • Kimberly walked between the cars.

The use of among gives the idea of wandering or not following a defined path or route.

For example:

  • Kimberly walked among the cars.

How Do You Remember Among vs. Between

Although there aren’t any tricks or tips to remember the difference between these two words, keep in mind between is used much more often than among. Between is used with all distinct relationships, while among is used with all indistinct connections.

History

Both words originate from Old English. By all accounts, among is the older of the two words and came from gemonge, meaning “in a crowd.” It has always been related to groups of individuals or items and serves as a way to explain their relationships to one another.

Between shows up in writing after among and is directly from the Old English word twa, meaning “two.” This may be why many believe between should only be used with two items, but as we see above, this isn’t always the case.

Let’s Review

Forget everything incorrect you may have learned about among and between, and instead follow these simple rules. First, use between when dealing with one-on-one relationships between two or more specific things, groups, or people.

Use among when dealing with one-on-one relationships between two or more unspecific things, groups, or people.