Between vs. Among
What is the difference?
Students of English often have difficulty understanding the difference between the words between and among. How do you know when to use each one?
Both words are prepositions, and are used to talk about the relationship between people and objects, and the space or area around them. Although the two words are similar, they are not the same.
It is important to learn the difference because native English speakers never confuse these two words. Understanding when to use each one is an important skill that will take your English to the next level.
Let's look at some examples to help you learn the distinction.
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The word between has three key uses. When speaking about space, it means that something – such as a person or object – is in the middle of two other people or things. If there are more than two people or things around, it isn't possible to use between. When used in this sense, it is also possible to say in between.
Between is also used to speak about the distance that separates two things. We can talk about the distance between two cities, two objects, two people, and even two ideas.
Finally, between can be used to talk about intervals or periods of time.
It is common to use between when speaking about differences. For example, "What is the difference between between and among?" or "What is the difference between mandarins and oranges?"
Another common expression with between is "Between you and me..." This expression means that you are going to tell secret information.
- Julia is sitting between her friends Michael and David.
(Julia's friends, Michael and David, are sitting on either side of her.)
- The keys are on the table, between the flowerpot and the orange juice.
(The keys are on the table, in the middle of the flowerpot and the orange juice.)
- There are hundreds of miles of beautiful countryside between Madrid and Barcelona.
(Hundreds of miles of beautiful countryside separate Madrid and Barcelona.)
- When driving, you should leave at least 2 meters between your car and the car in front of you.
(When you are driving, it is a good idea to have at least 2 meters of distance from your car to the car in front of you.)
- There are enormous differences between the two politicians.
(The difference in opinion from one politician to the other is considerable.)
- Victor has two hours between his math class and his French class.
(Victor's French class is two hours after his math class.)
- Between you and me, Freddie isn't very good at football.
(Don't tell anybody, but I don't think Freddie is very good at football.)
The word among means that a person or object is surrounded by a group of things. If there are only two things around, you should use between. When there are more than two, you are usually obligated to use among.
A second use of the word among is to say that someone or something is a member of a larger set. The person or object in question is not physically be surrounded by the other objects, but is part of the group in a non-physical sense. In this sense among means one of or included in.
In British English, a synonym for among is amongst. Amongst is used in exactly the same way as among, but is not common in American English. Another way to say among is amidst, which is used in literature (in both American and British English).
A common expression with among is "among other things." This expression means that you could mention other similar things if you had to, but you aren't going to.
- The cat liked to hide among the many shoes at the bottom of the coat closet.
(The cat liked to hide at the bottom of the coat closet, in the middle of all the shoes.)
- Jenny's mobile phone is on the desk among letters, bills, books and a cup of coffee.
(Jenny left her mobile phone on the desk, surrounded by letters, bills, books and a cup of coffee.)
- A 92-year old woman was among the ten prizewinners.
(One of the ten prizewinners was a 92-year old woman.)
- Among all the students in the class, the only one to get a good grade was Mark.
(Out of all of the students in the class, only Mark got a good grade.)
- Among the many people to cry in the movie were my mother and her friend Betsy.
(Two of the people to cry while watching the movie were my mother and her friend Betsy.)
- On our vacation we went hiking, sailing and water-skiing, among other things.
(While on vacation we went hiking, sailing and water-skiing, but we did other things too.)
Both between and among can be used to talk about sharing or dividing things. If you are talking about dividing things between two people, you have to use between. But if you are talking about dividing things between more than two people, you can choose between between and among.
Compare these examples:
- My mother divided the cake between my brother and me.
(My mother split the cake into two pieces, one for me and one for my brother.)
- My department divided the work between/among all of the office workers.
(The department decided that the work should be shared by all of the office workers. Both between and among are correct here.)
There is one final difference between between and among. When speaking about groups of more than two objects (or people, or things), sometimes both between and among are possible. Between is used when distinct, individual items are named, and among is used when the items in question have not been named. Consider these examples:
- Peter is trying to decide between buying strawberry ice cream, chocolate ice cream and vanilla ice cream.
(In this sentence between is used, because the specific types of ice cream are named.)
- Peter is trying to decide among three different kinds of ice cream.
(In this sentence among is used, because the types of ice cream are not specified.)
A similar examples is:
- The meeting between the teacher, principal and vice principal went well.
(In this sentence between is used, because we are talking about three specific people.)
- The meeting among the school administrators went well.
(In this sentence among is used, because the three people in the group have not been named.)
A Story to Practice Between vs. Among
Lucy Richardson lives in a big house on a tree-lined street. Her house is between a small, white house on the left and a medium-sized blue house on the right. Lucy's room is on the second floor, in between the library and the games room. Her room is a little messy, and she often loses her toys among the many other things in the room. Lucy has a lot of books. Fantasy, adventure and mystery are among her favorite types. She also has a fish tank, where tropical fish swim among miniature coral reefs and starfish.
Once, Lucy's friend came to visit and accidentally dropped her keys into the fish tank. The two girls watched the keys sink to the bottom, at first floating among the colorful fish and finally settling between a miniature castle and an underwater plant. The fish didn't know what to make of the keys. Eventually they started to swim among the keys, the castle and the plant, and were quite happy. However, the girls were worried, because Lucy's friend needed her keys in order to get home.
The two girls asked Lucy's sister for help, and between the three girls they came up with a plan. They attached a pencil to one of Lucy's earrings, and used the device to get the keys out. It took between 5 and 10 minutes to complete the operation, because the fish were swimming among the objects. Finally, the keys were rescued! Next time Lucy and her friend are going to be more careful.
Answer the following 10 questions and then check your answers. Each question is worth 10 points.
- Which of the following is a correct definition of between?
- In the middle of two objects
- Surrounded by a group of unnamed objects
- A synonym for "one of" or "included in"
- Located near or close to two objects
- When is it best to use the preposition among?
- To talk about the period of time from one event to another
- To describe the distance that separates different places
- To explain when two people share something
- When an object is surrounded by a group of objects
- Which of the following is written correctly?
- I parked my car among the small red car and the big blue truck.
- Among the people to come to the birthday party was my friend Selena.
- What is the age difference among you and your brother?
- Among you and me, I don't think Jeff is a very good cook.
- Which sentence is written incorrectly?
- On the flight home, Kevin sat between his mother and his aunt.
- Carla enjoys reading, cycling and yoga, among other things.
- Between the people to win the award were two of my friends.
- I don't know which movie to see. I'm trying to choose between a thriller and a romantic comedy.
- Which of the following is true about between and among?
- Between and among are both prepositions.
- Among is used to talk about secret information.
- A common expression is "between other things."
- Native English speakers confuse between and among.
- Which of the following is NOT true about between and among?
- Between and among have very different meanings.
- Between is used in American English, and among is used in British English.
- Usually between is used when there are two things around, and among when there are more than two.
- Among can be used to talk about non-physical things.
- My little brother likes to sit __________ me and my sister when we watch TV.
- in between
- between of
- __________ all of my classmates, the one I like best is Henry.
- In between
- In among
- When my grandmother passed away, she divided her possessions __________ all of her grandchildren.
- both words are possible
- neither word is possible
- The distance __________ my house and my uncle's house is about 5 miles. It takes __________ 2 hours and 3 hours to walk from one to the other, depending on the weather.
- between; between
- among; among
- between; among
- among; between
Part 1: 1. A | 2. D | 3. B | 4. C
Part 2: 1. A | 2. B
Part 3: 1. C | 2. B | 3. C | 4. A