Between people versus among people


I remember your brilliant answers in my old threads:
Alan’s ‘betwixt and between’, Jamie’s explanation of ‘in-betweening’’ - in response to my question about tweeening

And I also know what prefix be- adds to the meaning of a word.

But I also hear (by my own ears :)) the use of between in relation to a set of more than two (things, people, computers, etc). And even see that in formal writing.

Relationships between people, (instead of among) and the like.

What do you think of that?

Just not impeccable English? :slight_smile:
Or, maybe, such use simply implies/refers to only paired (twin :)) relationships? Or something of that kind…

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Hi Tamara

Saying that between refers to two things and among refers to more than two is not a bad general rule, but there are plenty of instances where you shouldn’t (can’t) be too strict with this “rule”. :wink:

Here is what the American Heritage Dictionary has to say about the usage of between and among:


According to a widely repeated but unjustified tradition, “between is used for two, and among for more than two.” It is true that between is the only choice when exactly two entities are specified: the choice between (not among) good and evil, the rivalry between (not among) Great Britain and France.

When more than two entities are involved, however, or when the number of entities is unspecified, the choice of one or the other word depends on the intended sense. Between is used when the entities are considered as distinct individuals; among, when they are considered as a mass or collectivity. Thus in the sentence “The bomb landed between the houses”, the houses are seen as points that define the boundaries of the area of impact (so that we presume that none of the individual houses was hit). In “The bomb landed among the houses”, the area of impact is considered to be the general location of the houses, taken together (in which case it is left open whether any houses were hit).

By the same token, we may speak of a series of wars between the Greek cities, which suggests that each city was an independent participant in the hostilities, or of a series of wars among the Greek cities, which allows for the possibility that the participants were shifting alliances of cities. For this reason, among is used to indicate inclusion in a group:
“She is among the best of our young sculptors.”
“There is a spy among you.”

Use between when the entities are seen as determining the limits or endpoints of a range:
“They searched the area between the river, the farmhouse, and the woods.”
“The truck driver had obviously been drinking between stops.”[/i]


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Hi Tamara,

Without wishing to detract from Amy’s quotation without as it were wanting to put the cat among the pigeons (sorry Amy couldn’t resist it) I would add that between is far more specific and suggests some sort of contact or lack of it whereas among is much vaguer and hints at in the middle of.

They can be seen in the two expressions:

Between the Devil and the Deep blue sea


Among my souvenirs (popular song)




Hmm, how interesting…
Now it seems that I cannot still correctly use between with numerous ‘things’.

OK. Will continue listening and reading… Hopefully, it’ll help me to learn how to break this my ‘general rule’ in the right way :slight_smile:

Thank you!

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