The English language is full of words that might seem similar at first, but turn out to be quite different. Maybe they sound the same or are spelled similarly. Or maybe they’re often used in the same context, tricking you into thinking they’re synonyms.
One example of confusing word usage is when to use “between” or “among” in a sentence. These prepositions are sometimes used interchangeably when they shouldn’t be.
Here’s the basic difference between “among” and “between”: While “among” is used to describe indistinct, unnamed elements of a group, “between” describes two or more specific things.
Below, we’ll get into “between” vs. “among” in more detail. It’s time to learn the difference and stop relying on a grammar-checking tool to tell you if you’re using them right or not!
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What does between mean?
The preposition “between” refers to a point in time or space that separates two or more distinct things or events. It also describes the relationships that connect specific things.
In other words, you can use “between” to talk about positions, time or relationships.
Use of between
Here are some examples of how you can use “between” in a sentence:
- “Miranda, Anna and Sebastian are best friends. There are no secrets between them.” (Relationship)
- “It doesn’t matter if you order the chicken or pork. I find there’s very little difference in flavor between the two.” (Relationship)
- “My husband owns a business; he’s always traveling between Beijing, Madrid, Seattle and Toronto.” (Position)
- “The beaches in Vancouver are most crowded between June and September.” (Time)
- “Between work, school and extracurricular activities, I have no time to relax.” (Relationship)
What does among mean?
The word “among” (or “amongst” in British English) means “surrounded by.” It can also mean “part of a larger group.” You use it to talk about a group in which no one or nothing is separate or specific.
Use of among
Let’s look at a few examples of how to use “among”:
- “When she moved to New York City, she felt lost among all the people rushing around.” (Surrounded by)
- “If you look up on the mountain, you can see one lonely tree among the ashes from the fire.” (Surrounded by)
- “He finally felt comfortable—he knew he was among friends.” (Part of a group)
- “She immediately fell in love with the sweet, quiet puppy sitting among all the loud adult dogs.” (Surrounded by)
- “For some strange reason, the virus was very mild among young children.” (Part of a group)
A side-by-side comparison
Now that we’ve discussed both words individually, let’s compare how they would look in similar contexts.
Between: “Our house is halfway down the street, between the bright blue house and the sunny yellow house.”
→ This means that the house is located in the middle of two specific houses: the blue one and the yellow one.
Among: “Our house is halfway down the street, among vividly colored houses.”
→ This expresses that the house is surrounded by houses that are painted in vivid colors, but doesn’t mention any specific ones.
Between: “I want to get her a special graduation gift, but I’m having trouble choosing between the gold necklace, the engraved photo frame and the charm bracelet.”
→ In this example, the gift-giver is trying to choose from three individual items: the necklace, the photo frame and the bracelet.
Among: “I want to get her a special graduation gift, but I’m having trouble choosing among all the nice options at the store.”
→ Here, the gift-giver sees a group of choices (“all the nice options”) but hasn’t narrowed it down to anything in particular.
Between: “My friend’s boyfriend told me he once surfed right between two great white sharks in Hawaii—there was one on either side of him!”
→ This example expresses that the surfer’s location was in the middle of two specific sharks.
Among: “My friend’s boyfriend told me he once surfed among great white sharks in Hawaii. He said he was surrounded!”
→ This means that a general group of sharks was all around the surfer.
Between or among: It all comes down to specifics
These two tricky prepositions might not be the easiest to use, but hopefully, we’ve helped clear it up a little. Just remember to use “between” when you’re dealing with specifics, and “among” when a group of general elements is involved. With some practice, you’ll be able to tell the difference between the two with no trouble at all!
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Andrea is a Canadian freelance writer and editor specializing in English, e-learning, EdTech, and SaaS. She has a background as an ESL teacher in beautiful Vancouver, British Columbia. In her free time, Andrea loves hanging out with her husband and children, creating recipes in the kitchen, and reading fiction. She also loves camping and jumping into lakes whenever possible. Learn more about Andrea on LinkedIn or check out her website.