Maybe you subscribed to “Dontcha Wanna Sound Smarter” because although you have a good understanding of English grammar, you want to make sure you’re not committing any egregious grammar errors.
So … you only read a post here and there because you feel that you already know the grammar rule explained in many of the posts.
If that sounds like you, you’re probably thinking that you can skip today’s post because you already know the rule governing when to use between and when to use among. In fact, you’re probably thinking that today’s post is for that slacker you sat next to in high school English class, who never paid attention.
But you’d be wrong.
Today’s post is really for any of you who did pay close attention in English class and rely on a handful of trusty rules that you have committed to memory to keep you from committing a (gasp!) grammatical error.
This post is a must read for you if, when you saw the title “Among vs. Between,” you thought to yourself, “Well I sure don’t have to read that post. Between is used with two things, and among is used with three or more things.”
You would be correct that most of the time, the above rule of thumb is correct, as in the following example:
between with 2 items:
I am deciding between the eggplant parmigiana and the pasta primavera for dinner.
But there are several instances in which you would be wrong if you always rely on this rule of thumb.
between with 3 items:
I am deciding between the eggplant parmigiana, the pasta primavera, and the soup with side salad for dinner.
If you didn’t see that one coming, don’t blame yourself. Somewhere along the line, you learned this “rule,” but if you want to sound smarter, we’re going to have to take a closer look at the differences between between and among.
The first rule governing when to use between involves usage cases you already know; it’s common sense. However, the second rule governing the use of between might trip you up, as it defies the “rule” that many of us learned, so pay attention.
1. Use between for separation of space, time, distance/points:
The little girl slept between her mom and dad whenever she had nightmares.
We will arrive at your home between 7:00pm and 7:30pm.
Stamford is between Norwalk and Westport.
2. Use between to demonstrate a one-to-one relationship or choice:
Relationship involving 2 options:
My son is deciding between LSU and SMU for his university experience.
Relationship involving 3 options:
My son is deciding between LSU, SMU, and UCLA for his university experience.
1. Use among with groups – when surrounded by, within, or belonging to a group:
Surrounded by a group (of things):
At the gallery showing, we were standing among many soon-to-be masterpieces.
Within a group:
As the saying goes, you can tell your secrets when you are among friends.
Belonging to a group:
At the awards ceremony, the actress was among a talented group of her peers.
2. Use among when the emphasis is on the distribution, as opposed to the relationship:
The family fortune was divided evenly among the four heirs.
3. Use among with relationships when individuals are not specified:
The moms on the PTO are among some of the hardest working women I know.
Bonus 1: One last tip to commit to memory – just like wearing a string of garlic around your neck will ward off the vampires, this tip will keep the grammar snobs at bay: Between requires object pronouns: me, you, her/him/it, us, and them.
Always use “between you and me.” It’s never correct to say “between you and I.”
Bonus 2: For a very thorough explanation of the nuances of between vs. among usage, check out the Oxford Dictionaries blog post by Catherine Soanes. Her post is succinct and by far the most detailed explanation of all usages I have come across. Another detailed explanation of when to use among and when to use between, can be found at Writing Explained.
I hope this helps clarify the difference between among and between. (See what I did there?) 🙂
If you’ve been paying attention, this post is the 16th of 52, which means that we’re almost one-third of the way through our year of grammar tips.
For those of you who have been reading faithfully each week, you probably have begun to sound smarter. (Yay!) 🙂
And so I would like to remind you that nobody likes a know-it-all. Please wield your newfound superhero power of grammar knowledge carefully. Don’t start acting like the very grammar snobs you don’t want judging you.
And be gracious. Just as I share my grammar knowledge bombs with you, please share my posts (and where to find me: @Snowflake_Story or @Jill Barletti) with others, so that they, too, can start sounding smarter.
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