Between vs. among
You might be wondering when to use between, and when to use among in English.
A student learning English recently asked me:
In your lesson called “Difference between Say, Tell, and Speak” – Why not AMONG instead of BETWEEN since we’re dealing with three names?
It is often taught that “between” is used for 2 items and “among” for 3 or more.
But this is not completely accurate. The more accurate difference is this:
- Between is used when naming distinct, individual items (can be 2, 3, or more)
- Among is used when the items are part of a group, or are not specifically named (MUST be 3 or more)
This example will help illustrate the difference:
The negotiations between Brazil, Argentina, and Chile are going well.
The negotiations among the countries of South America are going well.
Of course, these sentences are not equivalent (because there are more countries in South America than just Brazil, Argentina, and Chile) but they illustrate the rule – you CAN use between with 3 individual items, and you must use among when talking about a general group (in which no specific countries are named).
Here’s another example that is more exact:
I’m trying to decide between the green shirt, the blue shirt, and the black shirt.
I’m trying to decide among these shirts.
These sentences are the same – but in the first sentence, we specifically name each of the three options (the green shirt, the blue shirt, and the black shirt) – so we use the word between. In the second sentence, we treat the items as part of a group (“these shirts”) so we use the word among.
You can find more information and examples here: Grammar Girl: “Between” Versus “Among”
“Between you and I” or “Between you and me”?
The correct phrase is “between you and me” – never “between you and I” – this is something that even native speakers confuse!
This expression is used when you want the other person to keep some information a secret, for example:
Between you and me, I think John got fired because he’s completely incompetent.
This means you don’t want the other person to tell anyone else your opinion about John’s lack of abilities.
Now you know when to use among vs. between!