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Between vs. Among—What’s the Difference?

  • Use between when referring to one-to-one relationships.
  • Use among when referring to indistinct or nonspecific relationships.

We already touched on the difference between between and among when we talked about the difference between among and amongst. But let’s take a closer look at these two commonly confused words. We might even dispel a grammar myth in the process.

When to Use Between

There’s a common and oddly persistent belief that between should be used only when there are two elements, and among should be used when there are more than two elements. But this rule is a myth—or, to be more charitable, it’s a great oversimplification. You can use between when there are more than two elements involved:

He had to choose between a bicycle, a train set, a pair of sneakers, and a new backpack for his birthday present.

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In fact, you can use between for any number of elements, as long as all the elements are separate and distinct. According to The Chicago Manual of Style, you can even use between when “multiple one-to-one relationships are understood from the context”:

Negotiations between the member states collapsed last night.

When describing spatial relationships, between usually means in the middle of something, or in the space restricted by something:

He drove too quickly between the cars.

When to Use Among

Among is used when talking about people or things that are not distinct and are viewed as a group:

There wasn’t much unity among the council members.

Among could indicate that something belongs to a group:

She only ever felt comfortable when she was among her friends.

When referring to spatial relationships, among tells us that something is surrounded by something else:

Paula always wanted to go swimming among dolphins.


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