Between and Among

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  • Nancy Tuten

    3 April 2018

    Between and Among

    Which sentences correctly use “between” or “among”?

    1. I am having trouble choosing from among the three candidates we interviewed for the manager’s position.
    2. The contract dispute was to be settled in negotiations between the subcontractor, the electrician, the engineer, and the project director.
    3. We divided the cost of the dinner between Francis, Martha, Sally, and me.
    4. My husband and I discussed the paintings among ourselves until others arrived at the exhibit.

    Only the first sentence is correct.

    Although American dictionaries make finer points of distinction between these two words (see, for example, the elaboration on the definition of between in Webster’s) the basic rule is relatively simple: Use between when you are referring to two people, items, or ideas; use among when referring to three or more.

    Sentences 1, 2, and 3, therefore, should use among because each sentence refers to three or more people. Sentence 4 should have said “between ourselves” since the conversation was between only two people: the speaker and her husband.

    Sometimes we have to use between even when talking about more than two items for the sake of logic.  We would say, for example, that the landscaper planted flowers between the houses in the new neighborhood” because although there are more than two houses in the neighborhood, the flowers appear between two at a time.

    TEST YOURSELF

    1. Before the work crew could leave for the day, they had to put grout among the newly laid tiles on the kitchen floor.
    2. The child anxiously tried to decide between all the different flavors of ice cream available to her.
    3. Although the process is time consuming, the coach insists on a conference between the captain and each player the day before every game.
    4. I have never fully understood the differences between the words “compose,” “comprise,” and “consist.”

    ANSWERS

    1. to put grout BETWEEN the newly laid tiles [Each ribbon of grout goes between two tiles.]
    2. to decide AMONG all the different flavors
    3. CORRECT [Each conference is between two people: the captain and one player.]
    4. AMONG the [three] words

    Copyright 2001 Get It Write. Revised 2018.