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Is It Among Or Between

Published by at February 9th, 2024 , Revised On February 27, 2024

Language is a dynamic and ever-evolving entity, and as such, it is rife with intricacies and confusing words that often confound even the most adept writers. One such problem that frequently leaves even professionals scratching their heads is the choice between “between” and “among.” 

While these two words might seem interchangeable at first glance, a closer examination reveals subtle distinctions in their usage that can significantly impact the clarity and precision of your communication.

The Basics

Let’s start by dissecting the fundamental differences between “between” and “among.” 

“Between” is typically employed when referring to two distinct entities or individuals.
For example, you might say, “The negotiation is between the two companies” or “The secret is between you and me.” In both instances, there are clear and separate entities involved.

On the other hand, “among” steps onto the stage when dealing with more than two items or individuals. For instance, you might say, “The treasure was hidden among the rocks” or “She excelled among her peers.” Here, the emphasis is on a collective or indistinct grouping.

So far, so good, right? But as with many grammatical quandaries, the devil lies in the details, and the areas of English usage are rarely black and white.

The Grey Areas

While the basic rule seems straightforward, there are situations where the line between “between” and “among” blurs, leading to uncertainty among writers. One such instance is when dealing with a group of distinct, individual items. Technically, this would seem to warrant the use of “between.” However, there are cases where “among” might be equally acceptable, especially when the emphasis is on the collective nature of the items.

Consider the following examples:

  • “The cookies were distributed between the children.”
  • “The cookies were distributed among the children.”

In the first sentence, the use of “between” suggests a division of the cookies among the children, treating each child as an individual entity. In the second sentence, “among” is employed, emphasising the collective distribution without necessarily singling out each child. Both sentences are grammatically correct, highlighting the subtle flexibility that English allows.

Context Is Key

As with many language quandaries, context plays a pivotal role in determining the most appropriate choice between “between” and “among.” The context not only involves the number of entities involved, but also the area you wish to convey.

Consider the following scenarios:

Distinct Separation

When there is a clear and distinct separation between the entities, “between” is often the more suitable choice. For example:

  • “The negotiations are between the two rival factions.”
  • “The agreement is between the employer and the employee.”

In these instances, the parties involved are clearly demarcated, making “between” the grammatically precise choice.

Collective or Indistinct Grouping

Conversely, when the focus is on a collective or indistinct grouping, “among” comes into play:

  • “The news spread quickly among the villagers.”
  • “He found solace among the pages of his favourite book.”

Here, the emphasis is on the shared experience within the group rather than on individual entities.


Another factor to consider is inclusivity. If you want to stress the inclusion of all entities within a group, “among” might be the better option. For instance:

  • “The prize was distributed among all participants.”
  • “Equality should prevail among citizens.”

In these cases, the use of “among” implies a more encompassing distribution or involvement.

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Idiomatic Expressions

English is replete with idiomatic expressions, and the choice between “between” and “among” is no exception. Certain phrases have solidified over time, and deviating from them can sound awkward or even incorrect.

For instance:

  • “Between a rock and a hard place.”
  • “Between the devil and the deep blue sea.”

Attempting to substitute “among” in these expressions would likely raise eyebrows, as the established idioms demand the use of “between.”

Regional And Stylistic Variances

It is worth noting that language is a living, breathing entity, and its usage can vary across regions and evolve over time. While some style guides and grammarians may prescribe strict rules, others acknowledge the fluidity of language and the inevitability of change.

In British English, for instance, there is often more leeway in using “among”, even when referring to two entities. American English, on the other hand, tends to adhere more strictly to the “between for two, among for more” guideline. However, these are general tendencies, and individual preferences may vary.

Practical Tips For Usage

A few practical tips can help steer you in the right direction:

  • Consider the Number: If dealing with two distinct entities, lean towards “between.” For groups or indistinct collectives, opt for “among.”
  • Examine the Emphasis: Think about the aspect you wish to convey. If you want to highlight individual separateness, choose “between.” If emphasising collective involvement, opt for “among.”
  • Stay True to Idioms: In established idiomatic expressions, stick with the traditional usage of “between” or “among” as dictated by the phrase.
  • Be Mindful of Regional Variances: If you are writing for a specific audience or adhering to a particular style guide, be aware of regional or stylistic preferences.
  • Read Aloud: Sometimes, reading your sentences aloud can help you discern the natural flow and choose the more fitting option.

Frequently Asked Questions

The choice between “among us” and “between us” depends on the context. Use “among us” when emphasising a collective presence, while “between us” is fitting for individual separation. For example, “The secret is between us” suggests confidentiality, while “The bond among us is unbreakable” highlights a shared connection.

Use “among” when referring to a collective or indistinct group, emphasising shared experiences, relationships, or distribution within that group. For instance, “The camaraderie among colleagues is evident,” or “Equality should prevail among citizens.” It conveys a sense of inclusivity within a broader context.

“Between” is a preposition in grammar, indicating a relationship or separation, often involving two distinct entities. It signifies the spatial, temporal, or conceptual space that exists amid the specified objects or individuals. For example, “The cat is between the two chairs” or “The meeting is between 2 and 3 p.m.”

About Alvin Nicolas

Avatar for Alvin NicolasNicolas has a master's degree in literature and a PhD degree in statistics. He is a content manager at ResearchProspect. He loves to write, cook and run. Nicolas is passionate about helping students at all levels.