Between or Among?
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Hi there. My name is Emma. Today, we have a very exciting lesson for you, a very exciting
grammar lesson. I know some of you are probably thinking, "Can grammar really be that exciting?"
I think yes, yes, it can. We're going to be looking at the difference between "among",
"amongst", and "between".
What we're going to do is, first, we're going to look at how teachers often tell you what
the difference is. I'm going to call this the simple difference between "among" and
"between". Then we're going to look at when this simple difference rule doesn't work.
We're going to look at the rule, and then we're going to look at when the rule doesn't
work. Let's get started.
A lot of teachers, and you may have heard this before, they often say that we use "between"
when we're talking about two of something; maybe two people, two items, two animals,
two objects. We use "among" when we're talking about three or more items. Again, it can be
people, objects. This is what a lot of teachers say. In general, this rule does work, but
again, there are many exceptions to this rule, which I will talk about in the second part
of this video.
Let's look at the first sentence, which is an example. "The bill was split between Frank
and Mark." We have two people, so this is okay. "...between Frank and Mark". "The bill
was split", meaning... when you go to a restaurant, at the end of your dinner they give you a
piece of paper and it might say $40 -- this is how much you have to pay. What Frank and
Mark did is they split the bill "between" them, meaning Frank paid some and Mark paid
A second example: "Between you and me, I think Jane should tell her mom the truth."
What does this mean? Again, there are two of us; you and me. Often times we use "between" to
say "let's keep this a secret between us." "Between you and me, I think Jane should tell
her mom the truth." You may have noticed I underlined "me" in red marker. Some people,
especially native speakers, think this is "I". They think "Between you and I, I think
Jane should tell her mom the truth." This is in fact incorrect. Because "between" is
a preposition, it should be "me" after, but you will hear a lot of people say, "between
you and I". You'll hear it all the time. It's not grammatically correct.
In our third example, we're using "among". "Among the books, I saw an old photo." Books
-- there're more than two in this case. It might not be clear, but I'm talking about
more than two books. Another sentence: "I walked among the trees."
Now we're going to look at when this rule, two items versus three+ items, does not apply,
when this rule doesn't work.
If you look over here, we have "between", "between", and "between". On this side, we
have "among", "among", and "among". What do you notice about these sentences? Take a second
to read them. "I must choose between U of T, UBC, and McMaster University." Are there
two items in that sentence? No, there're three items, and yet, we use "between". Same with
the next one: "There was an agreement between members of the Justin Bieber Fan Club, the
Katy Perry Fan Club, and The Black Sabbath Fan Club." Again, we have three items. We
could even add to those; we could say the Marilyn Manson Fan Club, and KISS Nation,
Here again, "There is a trade agreement between Mexico, Canada, and the United States." I
said before that we use "between" for two, and "among" for three, but you see here, this
isn't the case. My point is, although "between" is often used "between" two things, it's not
always. Sometimes, "between" is used with more than two things. How do we know when
to use "among" and when to use "between" in this case for these exceptions? We use "among"
when we're talking about groups, where the group is general, there aren't specified members,
and it's a mass of people; an undefined group, you could call it. I'm calling it a group noun.
An example: "I must choose among universities in Canada." I'm not talking about specific
universities; I'm talking about universities as a whole. Compare this to where we use "between".
We use "between" when we're talking about individual relationships, or one-to-one relationships.
For example, "I must choose between the University of Toronto, the University of British Columbia,
and McMaster University." In this case, we're talking about universities as a whole group;
in this case we're talking about the relationship between me and U of T, me and UBC, and myself
and McMaster University. If you compare these two sentences, I'm hoping it will become a
little bit clearer to you.
Let's look at another example. "There was an agreement among all members." We're not
talking about specific members with specific names; we're talking about members as a whole
group. It's considered a mass noun, a collective group. If we compare this to "There was an
agreement between members of the Justin Bieber Fan Club, the Katy Perry Fan Club, and the
Black Sabbath Fan Club.", we're now talking about a one-to-one relationship: there was
an agreement between the Justin Bieber Fan Club and the Katy Perry Fan Club; the Justin
Bieber Fan Club and the Black Sabbath Fan Club; the Justin Bieber Fan Club and, if we
had KISS Nation, KISS Nation. There was an agreement between the Katy Perry Fan Club
and Black Sabbath Fan Club, and so forth. The main thing is we're talking about one-to-one relationships.
Our third example: "Trade agreements exist among countries." We're not talking about
distinct countries, we're not talking about specific countries, we're talking about countries
as a group, as a collective whole; whereas in this case, "There is a trade agreement
between Mexico," -- which is a distinct country -- "Canada," -- again specified individual
country - "and the United States." If you compare these sentences, you'll notice, here
it's looking at a whole, a group as a whole, and when we use "between", it's looking at
Let's look at some more examples of when we would use "between" versus "among".
Okay, I just explained some of the difficult rules, now we're going to look at some of the easier
rules between "between" and "among". One easy rule is when we use the word "difference".
If you have the word "difference" in the sentence, use "between". For example: "There is a difference
between the Canadian, the Australian, and the New Zealand accent." Anytime you see difference
- "There is a difference between cats, dogs, and polar bears." Another example: "There
is a difference between DVDs, Blu-Ray discs, and VHS tapes." Anytime you see "difference",
use "between". Opposite to this, when we use "distribute", use "among". For example: "The
tips were distributed among the waitresses." You see the word "distribute", use "among".
Next, let's talk about location. Often, we use "between" and "among" when we're talking
about physical location. When we use "between", we're talking about a specific path or point.
For example, Bolivia -- it's a country in South America - it "lies between Chile, Peru,
Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay." I think Paraguay, from what I remember. "Bolivia lies
between Chile, Peru, Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay." If we drew this on a map... I know
Bolivia doesn't look like a circle, but just pretend for a second. We can have Chile here,
Peru here, Brazil here, Argentina here, and Paraguay here. I know South America looks
nothing like this; this kind of looks like a flower. Just for you to understand the idea,
with "between" you should be able to put an X. It's something specified.
Another example; sometimes we talk about when we're walking. "I walked between the trees
and the house." This is a path; it's a defined path. Compare this to "among". When we use
"among", there is no defined path. If I had a picture like this with a whole bunch of
trees I could say, "I am among the trees." -- meaning you can't really put an X where
I am. Here, you can put an X; it's a defined path. You know where I am. When I'm talking
about "among the trees", it's not specific.
Now let's learn about the word "amongst", and then we will do a quiz together.
At the top of the board, I have the word "amongst", and I have the example, "Talk amongst yourselves."
I hear this fairly often; teachers use it a lot in Canada. In the United States, people
don't usually like to use "amongst"; they find that old-fashioned and archaic, meaning
they don't really use it that often. In the United States, you would probably use "among";
you wouldn't use "amongst". In Canada, sometimes, and in Britain, you'll hear people sometimes
say "amongst". This is a difference between American English and British English, and
it's often used just like "among".
Let's look at two different meanings of "among". The first one I have is: "among" can also
mean "included in". What do I mean by this? I have an example sentence; "Among those in
the audience was Arnold Schwarzenegger." In this case, I mean included in the audience,
there was Arnold Schwarzenegger. He was in the audience, he was included in the audience.
"Among" can also mean "one of". For example, "Lake Huron is among the largest freshwater
lakes in the world." -- meaning it's one of the largest freshwater lakes in the world;
not the largest, but one of the largest. We can also use "among" to mean these two things,
and you'll see this is very common.
Now let's do three test questions together. Number one: "There is a difference ________
then or than." Do you think it's "among" or "between"? "There is a difference ________
then or than." One thing I would notice first of all, the word "difference", that's a hint.
Secondly, we only have two items, so that's another hint. If you said...
"between", you're correct. "There is a difference between then and than."
Sentence number two: "We have a traitor ________ us." In this case, what do you think it is?
If you said "among", you're correct. We're looking at "us" as a whole group, not distinct individuals.
Number three; so either "among" or "between". "________ cooking, studying, and working,
I have no time to play video games." Do you think it's "between" or "among"?
Okay, so I know there are three objects, but are they a group, or are they individual? They're individual.
"Between cooking, studying, and working, I have no time to play video games."
I invite you to come practice the difference between "among" and "between" at our website,
at www.engvid.com . We have a quiz there, so you can double-check to make sure you get
the meaning. Until next time, take care.
Learn English for free www.engvid.com