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Between or Among?

September 5, 2016

 

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Hi there. My name is Emma. Today, we have a very exciting lesson for you, a very exciting

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grammar lesson. I know some of you are probably thinking, "Can grammar really be that exciting?"

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I think yes, yes, it can. We're going to be looking at the difference between "among",

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"amongst", and "between".

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What we're going to do is, first, we're going to look at how teachers often tell you what

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the difference is. I'm going to call this the simple difference between "among" and

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"between". Then we're going to look at when this simple difference rule doesn't work.

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We're going to look at the rule, and then we're going to look at when the rule doesn't

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work. Let's get started.

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A lot of teachers, and you may have heard this before, they often say that we use "between"

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when we're talking about two of something; maybe two people, two items, two animals,

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two objects. We use "among" when we're talking about three or more items. Again, it can be

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people, objects. This is what a lot of teachers say. In general, this rule does work, but

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again, there are many exceptions to this rule, which I will talk about in the second part

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of this video.

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Let's look at the first sentence, which is an example. "The bill was split between Frank

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and Mark." We have two people, so this is okay. "...between Frank and Mark". "The bill

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was split", meaning... when you go to a restaurant, at the end of your dinner they give you a

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piece of paper and it might say $40 -- this is how much you have to pay. What Frank and

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Mark did is they split the bill "between" them, meaning Frank paid some and Mark paid

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some.

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A second example: "Between you and me, I think Jane should tell her mom the truth."

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What does this mean? Again, there are two of us; you and me. Often times we use "between" to

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say "let's keep this a secret between us." "Between you and me, I think Jane should tell

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her mom the truth." You may have noticed I underlined "me" in red marker. Some people,

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especially native speakers, think this is "I". They think "Between you and I, I think

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Jane should tell her mom the truth." This is in fact incorrect. Because "between" is

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a preposition, it should be "me" after, but you will hear a lot of people say, "between

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you and I". You'll hear it all the time. It's not grammatically correct.

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In our third example, we're using "among". "Among the books, I saw an old photo." Books

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-- there're more than two in this case. It might not be clear, but I'm talking about

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more than two books. Another sentence: "I walked among the trees."

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Now we're going to look at when this rule, two items versus three+ items, does not apply,

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when this rule doesn't work.

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If you look over here, we have "between", "between", and "between". On this side, we

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have "among", "among", and "among". What do you notice about these sentences? Take a second

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to read them. "I must choose between U of T, UBC, and McMaster University." Are there

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two items in that sentence? No, there're three items, and yet, we use "between". Same with

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the next one: "There was an agreement between members of the Justin Bieber Fan Club, the

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Katy Perry Fan Club, and The Black Sabbath Fan Club." Again, we have three items. We

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could even add to those; we could say the Marilyn Manson Fan Club, and KISS Nation,

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for example.

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Here again, "There is a trade agreement between Mexico, Canada, and the United States." I

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said before that we use "between" for two, and "among" for three, but you see here, this

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isn't the case. My point is, although "between" is often used "between" two things, it's not

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always. Sometimes, "between" is used with more than two things. How do we know when

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to use "among" and when to use "between" in this case for these exceptions? We use "among"

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when we're talking about groups, where the group is general, there aren't specified members,

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and it's a mass of people; an undefined group, you could call it. I'm calling it a group noun.

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An example: "I must choose among universities in Canada." I'm not talking about specific

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universities; I'm talking about universities as a whole. Compare this to where we use "between".

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We use "between" when we're talking about individual relationships, or one-to-one relationships.

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For example, "I must choose between the University of Toronto, the University of British Columbia,

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and McMaster University." In this case, we're talking about universities as a whole group;

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in this case we're talking about the relationship between me and U of T, me and UBC, and myself

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and McMaster University. If you compare these two sentences, I'm hoping it will become a

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little bit clearer to you.

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Let's look at another example. "There was an agreement among all members." We're not

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talking about specific members with specific names; we're talking about members as a whole

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group. It's considered a mass noun, a collective group. If we compare this to "There was an

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agreement between members of the Justin Bieber Fan Club, the Katy Perry Fan Club, and the

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Black Sabbath Fan Club.", we're now talking about a one-to-one relationship: there was

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an agreement between the Justin Bieber Fan Club and the Katy Perry Fan Club; the Justin

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Bieber Fan Club and the Black Sabbath Fan Club; the Justin Bieber Fan Club and, if we

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had KISS Nation, KISS Nation. There was an agreement between the Katy Perry Fan Club

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and Black Sabbath Fan Club, and so forth. The main thing is we're talking about one-to-one relationships.

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Our third example: "Trade agreements exist among countries." We're not talking about

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distinct countries, we're not talking about specific countries, we're talking about countries

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as a group, as a collective whole; whereas in this case, "There is a trade agreement

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between Mexico," -- which is a distinct country -- "Canada," -- again specified individual

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country - "and the United States." If you compare these sentences, you'll notice, here

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it's looking at a whole, a group as a whole, and when we use "between", it's looking at

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one-to-one relationships.

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Let's look at some more examples of when we would use "between" versus "among".

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Okay, I just explained some of the difficult rules, now we're going to look at some of the easier

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rules between "between" and "among". One easy rule is when we use the word "difference".

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If you have the word "difference" in the sentence, use "between". For example: "There is a difference

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between the Canadian, the Australian, and the New Zealand accent." Anytime you see difference

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- "There is a difference between cats, dogs, and polar bears." Another example: "There

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is a difference between DVDs, Blu-Ray discs, and VHS tapes." Anytime you see "difference",

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use "between". Opposite to this, when we use "distribute", use "among". For example: "The

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tips were distributed among the waitresses." You see the word "distribute", use "among".

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Next, let's talk about location. Often, we use "between" and "among" when we're talking

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about physical location. When we use "between", we're talking about a specific path or point.

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For example, Bolivia -- it's a country in South America - it "lies between Chile, Peru,

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Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay." I think Paraguay, from what I remember. "Bolivia lies

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between Chile, Peru, Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay." If we drew this on a map... I know

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Bolivia doesn't look like a circle, but just pretend for a second. We can have Chile here,

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Peru here, Brazil here, Argentina here, and Paraguay here. I know South America looks

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nothing like this; this kind of looks like a flower. Just for you to understand the idea,

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with "between" you should be able to put an X. It's something specified.

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Another example; sometimes we talk about when we're walking. "I walked between the trees

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and the house." This is a path; it's a defined path. Compare this to "among". When we use

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"among", there is no defined path. If I had a picture like this with a whole bunch of

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trees I could say, "I am among the trees." -- meaning you can't really put an X where

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I am. Here, you can put an X; it's a defined path. You know where I am. When I'm talking

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about "among the trees", it's not specific.

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Now let's learn about the word "amongst", and then we will do a quiz together.

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At the top of the board, I have the word "amongst", and I have the example, "Talk amongst yourselves."

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I hear this fairly often; teachers use it a lot in Canada. In the United States, people

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don't usually like to use "amongst"; they find that old-fashioned and archaic, meaning

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they don't really use it that often. In the United States, you would probably use "among";

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you wouldn't use "amongst". In Canada, sometimes, and in Britain, you'll hear people sometimes

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say "amongst". This is a difference between American English and British English, and

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it's often used just like "among".

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Let's look at two different meanings of "among". The first one I have is: "among" can also

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mean "included in". What do I mean by this? I have an example sentence; "Among those in

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the audience was Arnold Schwarzenegger." In this case, I mean included in the audience,

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there was Arnold Schwarzenegger. He was in the audience, he was included in the audience.

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"Among" can also mean "one of". For example, "Lake Huron is among the largest freshwater

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lakes in the world." -- meaning it's one of the largest freshwater lakes in the world;

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not the largest, but one of the largest. We can also use "among" to mean these two things,

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and you'll see this is very common.

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Now let's do three test questions together. Number one: "There is a difference ________

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then or than." Do you think it's "among" or "between"? "There is a difference ________

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then or than." One thing I would notice first of all, the word "difference", that's a hint.

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Secondly, we only have two items, so that's another hint. If you said...

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"between", you're correct. "There is a difference between then and than."

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Sentence number two: "We have a traitor ________ us." In this case, what do you think it is?

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If you said "among", you're correct. We're looking at "us" as a whole group, not distinct individuals.

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Number three; so either "among" or "between". "________ cooking, studying, and working,

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I have no time to play video games." Do you think it's "between" or "among"?

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Okay, so I know there are three objects, but are they a group, or are they individual? They're individual.

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"Between cooking, studying, and working, I have no time to play video games."

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I invite you to come practice the difference between "among" and "between" at our website,

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at www.engvid.com . We have a quiz there, so you can double-check to make sure you get

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the meaning. Until next time, take care.

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Learn English for free www.engvid.com

 

 

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