Among vs. Amongst

By Ali Hale

One of our readers, Tania Botha asked:

“When (if ever) must one use “amongst” – I systematically use “among” in my own writing and change it when editing other people’s texts, because “amongst” seems so old-fashioned. Is there a rule?”

You can use among and amongst interchangeably, but as Tania pointed out, among is more common in modern writing.

From Dr Grammar’s FAQs “Both are correct and mean the same, but among is more common.”

Some people try to distinguish between the two, but this really is a case when either word is valid. I’d recommend choosing whichever fits your piece of writing best: if you’re writing a fantasy story, or a piece of historical fiction, you might want:

  • “As Tarquin stood amongst the great trees of the dark forest…”

But if you’re writing a news or feature article, you’ll probably go for:

  • “If you’re among one of the biggest groups in society…”
  • “Living among the Bush people taught me a lot…”

So yes, amongst does seem old-fashioned – but it’s still grammatically correct as an alternative to among. It’s up to you to select which you prefer!

Editor’s note: We had already touched on this issue in the past with the article Among/Amongst: Is there a Difference?.

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62 Responses to “Among vs. Amongst”

  • Clare Grant

    Gosh, I have to say I wouldn’t systematically change something just because it sounded old fashioned. But I’m in England, and I think you can get away with it more.

    Though of course I would alter a single ‘among’ amongst ‘amongsts’ (or vice versa for the sake of consistency.

    In all the publications I’ve worked for, ‘among’ has been in the style guide because it’s shorter and therefore takes up less space.

    For my part, I think it’s useful to have a choice for the sake of prose rhythm.

  • Jennifer

    Whilst the old-fashioned way/modern way makes much more sense to me nowadays, reading various people’s writings gave me the thinking that “-st” belonged to British English (“old-fashioned”), whereas omitting was American English (and other variants of English, I suppose) because the omission of the “-st” was more common in American English (“modern”).

    Although this tip has made me rethink how I’ll be writing fiction and news articles! 😉

  • hitesh

    Use whatever you want . What’s the big deal when both are grammatically correct .

  • Ali

    Clare – great point about consistency. I agree that I would alter one instance of “among” or “amongst” in a piece where the other word predominated.

    Jennifer – glad the tip helped! 🙂 For me, using language well doesn’t mean just getting things correct … it’s about having the best word for your purpose.

  • guardian angel

    You just don’t know how much you are helping me.

    I have been improving my English since you came into my blogging life.

    By the way, thanks for introducing Dr. Grammar to me.

    I was not wrong when I made a post about you, guys.

    Anyway, I hope you could make a post about the right usage of advise and advice.

    I am quite confused.

    Thank you so much.

  • Tania

    Thx Ali!

    Clare – I see your point about prose rhythm and agree that “amongst” would work well in specific types of text. Maybe I should have added that I work mostly with business texts, which probably explains my predeliction for “among” 🙂

  • Lloyd

    I remember learning there is a difference between among and amongst.

    Instead of explaining, I will give an example.

    Let’s discuss the issues among the departments.
    Let’s discuss the issues amongst the departments.

    The first sentence using among means there are issues between departments.
    The second sentence using amongst means we want to talk to the departments about the issues.

    Does anyone else remember being taught this in school?

  • Carrie

    guardian angel,

    the difference between advice and advise is:

    advice is a noun. it is a thing (suggestion, wisdom, etc.) offered/given that can be offered and accepted.

    advise is a verb. it is the act of giving advice.

    hope that helps almost a year later! haha

  • Carrie

    oops…there was a typo in my last comment. offered/given was an extra bit that should have been deleted!

    it should have read:

    advice is a noun. it is a thing (suggestion, bit of wisdom, etc.) that can be given and received/accepted.

    etc…

  • John

    I realize the thread is a bit dated, but as far as I can tell there is a slight difference between the “-st” and their denuded counterparts in British and Australian English. These commonwealth countries tend to use whilst, amongst, etc. when the word that follows starts with a vowel or other soft sound. This makes the two words roll off the tongue more easily than the non -st words: consider amongst youths vs. among youths. If my hunch is correct, it would be grammatically similar (and perhaps descend from) the French “liaison” between two words. One pertinent example is the insertion of “-t-” in some cases between two words that end in vowels, for example “a-t-il” instead of “a il.” Another would be the pronunciation of the last letter when ordinarily silent: in “deux hommes” the normally silent “x” is pronounced as “z”.

  • c. w. burdick

    i fell among is with and willing. amongst is with in, but not with; standing with or next to., waiting for something else

  • Milt

    Lloyd – I remember much the same thing.

    I agree that a preference in style is a root cause of the change from “amongst” to “among”. However, I feel there is more to the story! For what it’s worth, there is a certain something lost in the translation, though I’m not sure it isn’t pedantry. I like Lloyd’s examples.

    1. Let’s discuss the issue amongst departments.

    To my mind, this means an issue will be discussed with a bunch of departments, and the use of the term “amongst” here is clearer than would be the use of “among”.

    2. Let’s discuss the issue among departments.

    This could mean either the same thing as in the first example, or it *might* mean you want to talk about something which transpired *between* departments.

    This is a subtle distinction, though perhaps no more than a peculiarity. Still, to me there is definitely a difference! For terms like “while”, “has”, and “are”, the usages “-t” or “-st” are certainly for emphasis, or color. In the case of “among” or “amongst”, however, I still see meaning! 🙂

  • Patson .m.

    for me i use it interchangeably ,it doesn’t strike me if its old use or not …i use the word [amongst] more often ,as far as it is correct grammatically.

  • Marci

    Which one is better?

    I rather enjoy the cultural diversity I live amongst.

    I rather enjoy the cultural diversity I live among.

  • Jason

    Marci, maybe neither. Isn’t that ending a sentence with a preposition?

    I rather enjoy hte cultural diversity amongst which I live.

  • Henrik Olsen

    Personally I’d have Tarquin stand amidst the trees instead, as he’s not a tree himself, but that’s really a subject for another article.

  • Arjun

    They are both interchangeable but I usually use the following rule of thumb.

    among – to be used with regards to countable objects or a group
    amongst – to be used with regards to uncountable, potentially infinite objects or unmeasurable objects.

    So, amongst the clouds versus among my class mates.

  • RJ

    I think usage makes a difference. “A god amongst men,” sounds like an overpowering figure, while “a god among men” seems like a powerful figure who blends in.

    Something to think about.

  • Nature

    come on,
    ‘among’ is common but where? ‘amongst americans’ no?
    ‘among’ is american and ‘amongst’ is british that’s what i know.
    i am sure british use ‘amongst’ much more than they do ‘among’ but becaue of hollywood movies, things are changing. americans also use ‘if i was’, in british english, the condiotional is always ‘if i were’.

    please tell me if i am wrong. is ‘among’ american and ‘amongst’ british?

  • Alicia

    It surprises me that even though I read modern books, I prefer “amongst.”

    Nature – you’re right! The standard rule is the shorter words are American, while longer ones are British, ie color (A), and colour (B).

  • Milt

    Actually, Henrik, in the midst of things, I think you nailed it.

  • Matt

    Jason,

    There is nothing wrong with ending an English sentence with a preposition. Proper English grammar dictates that it needs to happen sometimes, to quote Winston Churchill that is “something up with which I will not put.”

    That sentence sounds completely ridiculous and the only way for it to sound natural is for the preposition to be at the end.

    The rule itself originates from prescriptive grammarians applying Latin grammar to English, Latin was considered the most perfect language by these scholars and so they tried to improve upon English through Latin influence.

  • ormaaj

    I feel “amongst” alludes to a slightly different type of relation. I typically use it in situations like:

    “There exist complex interactions amongst various genes.”

    I don’t really have a technical justification for this, just my instinct. “amongst” feels less like a preposition. I don’t think it sounds “old fashioned” really.

  • Dee Strawayer

    RJ is absolutely bang on. I believe this further demonstrates how modern ‘international communicative English’ can erode the subtleties of the language. As a native speaker, it is especially annoying when two words are deemed absolutely synonymous by some bright-spark, when they just aren’t. “A god amongst men” is fundamentally different to “A god among men”; the former evokes images of a formidable, dominating character, whilst the latter suggests the god goes about unrecognised. We have to be mindful that by deeming words archaic (often in fact British English!) we may be limiting our expressive potential and lowering the language bar to accomodate the generally more simplistic demands of communicative English used, and often defined by, non-native speakers.

  • Jim

    Among and amongst (though very similar) are nearly opposite in meaning, as already noted (counter: flammable vs. inflammable). Amongst means you stand out (againST) a group. Among means you are within a group. The reason it seems old fashioned is that democracy (I am among the people) is the modern vogue; being a God amongst men was the job description of the king. It’s the archaic usage (wherefore art thou Romeo actually meant “Why are you Romeo?”, etc) that keeps the real meaning hidden. If the common usage is equivalent, then go ahead and equate them. Do it really matter, yo? Word.

  • mahesh

    i’ve always used amongst to refer to a person or thing that stands out in a crowd. for example, amongst the leaders of the world, churchill stood steadfast against the nazis. hazare was a force to reckon with amongst the apathetic politicos in parliament.

  • Chibi

    Amongst feels like a more intimate relation, as to be within (such as a group) and be a part of, or whole with existentially.
    Among is to be within yet be somehow separated, or apart from.
    Amongst warmth and understanding.
    Among sounds colder and distant.

    My usage might infer my feeling of relation to something.
    Am I in kind with it?
    Or just visiting?

    I live amongst Canadians, and when I go south I am among Americans.
    We walked amongst the trees, and drove among other cars.
    At home amongst family. In a crowd among strangers.

    And of course the British/Common Wealth vs. American debate is equally valid.

  • Jeff

    Wow. 2 of the last 3 posts said the opposite, Chibi and Jim.

    I think Jim is right though, that amongst denotes being different from the surrounding crowd.

  • jim

    Crack-headed attempts to split the atom.

    Among and amongst just have a sound difference — there is no meaning difference, other than the archaic sound of amongst.

    Not only is this easily seen by looking in any dictionary — it’s also easily derived from the etymology of amongst. It’s from the genitive of among with a bonus t sound at the end — it’s a syntactic difference that has survived the loss of the syntax.

    There’s no bonus special British subtle meaning here — there’s simply random variations of which version of a word survives synthetic reduction, an excuse for pedants to make crap up and claim snobbery. There’s a North/South of England gradient of usage — so it’s distribution depends simply on patterns of migration in the Anglophonic world.

    But go ahead and show how unclever you lot are with make-believe distinctions — the kind of folks who talk about the gigahertz frequency response of headphone wires.

  • Lordy

    @Jim. Wow Jim, looks like someone got out of the wrong side of the bed, stumbled over the point of the discussion and leapt to a knee-jerk conclusion. This post isn’t about ‘crack-headed’ pedants or grammar Nazis exercising their make-believe distinctions to demonstrate their one-upmanship. The original poster posed a simple, valid question on word use. The same question I’ve just had cause to ask too – that’s how I’ve ended up here.

    The responses, to my mind, are airing of thoughts and genuine attempts to help. If anyone is displaying their grammatical pretentions, it’s you Jim, with comments such as “…there’s simply random variations of which version of a word survives synthetic reduction.” And if you throw “…go ahead and show how unclever you lot are…” then you can add ‘arch’ to ‘pretentious’ as well. Perhaps even ‘dickhead’. Glass houses and throwing stones, Jim.

  • Caylith Creator

    On a related word: I have long been bothered by the expression “unbeknownst to . . .” I even see it in up-to-the-minute blogs and hear it on newscasts. I have always thought this word to be hopelessly archaic and wonder whether you, or any of your readers, share my peeve. I guess the source of my annoyance is personal–it simply grates on my ear.

  • Physics Mike

    I agree with Dee Strawayer, Lloyd, Milt, and RJ…

    A good analogy here would be to look at the difference between the prefixes inter- and intra-. Although these might be mistaken as “simply random variations” of a word (@jim), they have quite different meanings. For example, an inter-continental flight would be from China to the US; an intra-continental flight would be from the US to CANADA.

    This is how I would “split the atom” (though I though we were just splitting hairs):

    amongst = separately among

    I might also tend to group them with other words:

    among ~ within ~ intra
    —————————–
    amongts ~ with ~ inter

    A small example:
    “A god, separately, among men” has the same meaning/feel/sound as “A god amongst men” and is clearly different from saying “A god among men.”

    We can’t let dicks like know-it-all @jim come along and butcher our language in the guise of “communication.”

    Among and amongst may have had different meanings in the dictionary long ago. Or maybe this nuance only lived on in oral tradition; never explicitly written down, but established in the psyche of well read English speakers who realized that their language could also be an art form.

    Advice to Jim: study a real science, not a pseudo-science.

  • JD

    Hear hear, Lordy!

    Quite surprised there’s nary a word in this discussion about the phenomenon of connotation and its subjectivity. I’m convinced of a subtle difference between “among” and “amongst” depending upon context, and that this is one of those choices that is immune from rules – thankfully. Whether the choice is appropriate in a given instance depends mostly on the writer’s mastery, or lack thereof.

  • preeti

    I definitely agree to the above arguments put in favour or against …but if anyone could clarify …whether the students should be awarded marks for using ‘among’ in place of ‘amongst’ in grammar paper?

  • KeithL

    I could see Irene amongst the crowd
    I could not see Irene among the crowd

    There is a traitor amongst us
    There is no traitor among us

  • Max

    I’d rather use among\amongst depending on the sounding of whole sentence. I mean I’d use the one that sounds better in a particular case.

  • Chedda

    Great site!
    I completely disagree with those who say that amongst is archaic. Just because it isn’t in your vocabulary doesn’t mean it’s out of use!
    I can understand the view that ‘among’ and ‘amongst’ are interchangeable, at least to a degree that arguing the matter is a bit pedantic, as several people have said. However, when considering the decline of grammar and spelling in this country, perhaps it isn’t pedantry to argue such points. Personally, I would use the words interchangeable in spoken English due to laziness, but if I were writing, I would take more care to use the right one, because I do think there is a slight technical difference, as several people above have given examples to demonstrate perfectly.
    If we said there were ‘problems among individuals’ I would take this to mean that there were problems between or within a group of individuals. To say ‘amongst individuals’ would, to me, indicate the problems are unattached to those individuals and is more an indication of proximity, which doesn’t make sense, since problems aren’t a physical thing.

    Among the teachers, there were several males  there are some teachers, some of which are males.
    Amongst the teachers, there were several males  there are some teachers, and dispersed between them are some males.
    I don’t know if there’s a hard and fast rule, but it seems pretty clear that there’s a slight difference, even if only in a number of limited cases. I read somewhere that it’s related to whether the sentence is active or passive, and whether you are using singular or plural. I have also read that even though it sometimes seems like a distinction can be made, there is in fact not one, and they are always interchangeable, but I disagree because examples can clearly be found which are contrary to this.

  • Dartanjan

    the “st” in amongst could suggest the superlative. We get words like ‘good’,’better’,and ‘beST’ from Dutch, the English language’s closest relative. -er and -st are the regular suffixes used. This seems in line with the difference between “a god among men” and “a god amongst men” (as well as the other examples given above). amongst does seem to suggest a level above, or an extra separation.
    In other words- Amongst refers to object A next to or within object B BUT, not of the same group as B.

    Among refers to object A next to or wthin object B AND part of the same group.

    this does however mean that in the text that i was writing which brought me here, I was using the wrong word. 🙂

  • Clint

    They were fighting among themselves.
    They were fighting amongst themselves.

    Let them fight among themselves.
    Let them fight amongst themselves.

    (scratching head)…. Amongst sounds right when talking in past tense, but you are saying both are correct? good enough for me.

  • Richard

    I attended a very old fashioned grammar school where I was taught that ‘Among’ is belonging and ‘Amongst’ is not. For instance, I would ‘stand among friends’ but ‘stand amongst trees.’ There was another point I can’t quite recall about ‘among’ making the successive noun a singularity: ‘Among the people’ makes ‘the people’ a specific group whereas ‘Amongst the people’ makes ‘the people’ a non-specific group o individuals…but I might be remembering that wrong.
    I think I’ll just use ‘with’ from now on 🙂

  • Knapweed

    I believe the difference in the words reflect an actual property as opposed to a property that depends on relationship.

    “A God amongst men” would mean he actually is a God within a crowd of men.
    “A God among men” would mean, compared to other men he appears to be a God.

    Another example could be, “I am a tall man among pygmies” in other words, I may be a short-arse but I appear tall in a crowd of pygmies. “I am a tall man amongst pygmies” means I am genuinely tall and I am within a group of pygmies.

  • JohnA

    Clint: I grant you they are interchangeable in your example. In other examples they are not. See Knapweeds “pygmies” . In short, sometimes the distinction is worth making, even crucial to the exact sense, at others it is not. Coming late to this thread has given me the advantage of several examples to ponder, which has lead me to this opinion.

  • Sue, South Cheshire

    Analysing my usage I find I use amongst for ‘in the midst of’ and among for a more general connection.
    eg – I sat amongst friends at the concert
    It’s OK to use slang among friends.
    There was one blue flower amongst the daisies
    Among my friends there is little interest in fishing

    Perhaps it’s just a personal preference.
    (British, septuagenarian)

  • Speling Natzee

    It’s amusing: I only made it about half-way through these comments before “among” and “amongst” BOTH stopped looking like words.

  • norm

    “Amongst” is not grammatical. It’s something called excrescence, which means additional sounds are added to words without any grammatical justification. This occurs, for instance, due to evolving dialects, misconceptions about grammar or a lack of general education. There is no contextual difference between “among” and the excrescent form “amongst;” there’s nothing poetic about it, for that matter. You’re just making your vocabulary look more awkward.

  • Tuhin

    I would like to add something to this confusion. I somewhere found a vivid difference between among and amongst in their usages. Its quite simple and convenient. We generally use among in most of the cases but amongst before a word beginning with a vowel sound.
    The books were distributed among the boys.
    The books were distributed amongst us.
    Awaiting remarks..

  • Grammar Prof

    It’s actually quite simple, “amongst” sounds pretentious, especially when written by undergraduate or high school students in their research papers or essays or in blogs or other online communication. It’s even worse when the content of said papers/writing is fluff, with no real substantive thought. It’s as if the writer fancies herself to be William Shakespeare. “Among” is the best word to use. This is similar to “while” and “whilst.” The latter should never be used in American English.

    Just my humble opinion, though. Feel free to disagree (and take the loss in points). Just kidding!

  • Sarah

    Just googled this when I realized I wrote “amongst” and my spell check went off as incorrect. I disagree with “Grammar Prof” about it sounding pretentious. For me, as I was writing, “amongst” just came out naturally without a second thought. It actually was in online communication (a message board) but my intention was never to come across as more intelligent or anything along those lines by using it; this was just how I worded it in my own mind before writing it. If that makes me pretentious, then I’m perfectly okay with being pretentious.

    I think what someone else said made a lot of sense. They mentioned how their usage of “among” versus “amongst” depended upon rhythm. There are times when sentences do not sound rhythmic and seem unnatural or incorrect as a result. For example, I was having a discussion about childhood cancer when I used the word “amongst” and said that “the death rate is still 20% amongst children”. When I say this sentence to myself, it sounds fluid and natural in my mind. When i replace “amongst” with “among”, for whatever reason, it just sounds incorrect to me. I know this is not the case, but my personal preference here was to use amongst.

    Both are absolutely correct and I think which one uses should depend upon their own language usage and whichever sounds more natural to them. For example, someone who writes using formal jargon might find that using “among” seems out of place in their writing. Conversely, someone who writes informally may come across as pretentious, as Grammar Prof suggested, by using amongst.

    In this case I think it’s best to just go with your gut and use the word that you are most comfortable with.

  • Sarah

    Preeti wrote “I definitely agree to the above arguments put in favour or against …but if anyone could clarify …whether the students should be awarded marks for using ‘among’ in place of ‘amongst’ in grammar paper?”

    As someone in the education field, I can say for certain that I would treat both words as synonyms within a paper and not award one more points than the other. While word choice is important, this would not take away from a student’s paper, especially if the word they chose matched their writing style.

  • DrummerPF

    Interesting topic. I was brought to this page for the same reason as Sarah. The spell check dinged the word amongst. In fact, it is underlined right now as I write this post.

    So I “Googled” the word and found this debate about Among and Amongst.

    I was writing this sentence at the time: “Of course it doesn’t hurt that the guy who owns the kit is a drum tech, amongst other titles, who knows how to tune – and play good for that matter.”

    After reading this thread, I am happy to say that I will stick with the word “amongst”. It’s good to know the difference, if only for my own satisfaction, but I care about my English. I wish more people would. it’s such an eloquent language when one has a firm grasp on it and uses it properly.

  • Sarah May

    Dear Drummer PF,

    I would rather say, “Of course it doesn’t hurt that the guy who owns the kit is a drum tech, APART FROM his other titles, who knows how to tune – and play good for that matter.”
    I think using APART FROM would give your particular talent the focus that it needs. It sets it apart, quite literally.

    And here’s my take! For me, “among” signifies being a part of the group but not necessarily in the centre.”Amongst” would locate the subject more centrally, that it was surrounded by the things around me and not say at the fringes of the group. What say?

  • Jason Marcel

    I would like to point out that although some people think “amongst” sounds old-fashioned, “among” is the older of the two prepositions.

    In all honesty, when I see writers using “whilst” and “amongst” and “amidst”, it is almost always due to a pretense or a desire to sound sophisticated rather than using those words effectively.

    In an article handicapping the Oscar race for best foreign language film this year, I came across this sentence: “Do you think this movie belongs amongst the top 5?”.

    To me, that is a writer making an effort to sound sophisticated. It simply does not ring well to my ears to read or sound aloud “belongs amongst”.

    I believe a good writer should always simplify.

    “Do you think this movie belongs among the top 5?” will do. Why add “-st” when it is clearly not needed?

  • Ravonseed

    Prepositions to have fun with:

    ‘Among’ ‘Amongst’ ‘Amid’ ‘Amidst’

    To me they are as different as ‘In with’ is to ‘Within’
    I would use ‘Amongst’ in a sentence to soften a fact and use ‘Among’ when more emphases is desired, the same with ‘Amidst’ and ‘Amid’.

    They are great words that can be used to complement a story; add subtlety and flavour to the meal. I fear with our propensity to abbreviate, contract and shorten words we are de-evolving our beautiful language. We may find ourselves one day communicating in some kind of mathematical-phone-text-shorthand and end up speaking to each other in grunts.
    [Ravonseed 2014 UK]

  • Nana

    “Do you think this movie belongs amongst the top 5?”
    “Do you think this movie belongs among the top 5?”

    Like several contrasting examples already given in the comments, I would have viewed these questions as having different meanings.

    The former appears to be asking if the Top 5 should include the movie that the list currently does NOT include, if addition should be considered.

    The latter appears to be asking if the Top 5 should include the movie that the list currently includes, if subtraction should be considered.

  • Nana

    @Ravenseed

    Huh?

    😉

  • Ivan

    Jason Marcel
    “In all honesty, when I see writers using “whilst” and “amongst” and “amidst”, it is almost always due to a pretense or a desire to sound sophisticated rather than using those words effectively.”

    “I believe a good writer should always simplify.”

    Grammar Prof
    “It’s actually quite simple, “amongst” sounds pretentious…” “This is similar to “while” and “whilst.” The latter should never be used in American English.”

    I agree with Ravonseed’s post completely. The above attitude seems to be a common view by Americans, short is best simply because it’s shorter and apparently less ‘pretentious’. Thankfully we Britons don’t have such rigid rules on the issue; I don’t think simplifying language makes someone a better writer.

  • Veejay

    I think there is a ‘slight’ difference. Amongst suggests you belong to a group, while among suggests you happen to be near a group. Especially if you had to use both words.

    For example, “I was among the various bystanders near the site of the violence but I would have felt safer if I had been amongst my own kith and kin.”

    Here it is suggestive of belonging and not just presence.

    That is why I agree with Henrik Olsenon August 29, 2010 9:04am when he says “Personally I’d have Tarquin stand amidst the trees instead, as he’s not a tree himself, but that’s really a subject for another article.”

  • Ben

    Chedda on January 08, 2012 4:07 am:
    “Among the teachers, there were several males. –> there are some teachers, some of which are males.
    Amongst the teachers, there were several males. –> there are some teachers, and dispersed between them are some males.”

    To me, this is one of the best examples. The first sentence (using “among”) suggests that there is a group of teachers, and some of the teachers are males. The second sentence (using “amongst”) suggests that there is a group of teachers, and there are also some males dispersed between them; it suggests that these males are NOT teachers.

    Of course, there are many instances when the two words are interchangeable, but not always. I also do not think that using “amongst” sounds more pretentious when used correctly and necessarily. It may come off that way when the writer seems to be using it without knowing its implications, but that’s another story.

  • Jeff

    Why do Americans find this so hard? Even the teachers on this thread? A few things – first, the lexicon of the spellchecker in your computer was compiled by a team of Americans. Second – choosing “British English” as your default spellchecker language gives you a lexicon compiled by a team of Americans. Trust me – neither can be taken as gospel (how well did the computer geeks in your high school fare in literature classes?). Okay, I think I’ve worked out the best illustration of the very real difference between “amongst” and “among”. Sidenote – those who are throwing up “regional dialects” or “North of England vs. South of England” usage statistics are not helping their cause – they are just as likely to be proving more people in the South have a handle on the meaning difference than those in the North. And now – here is my example…
    “A striking plant with yellow blooms stood among the roses”
    The plant was a rose. It was counted as one of their number. It was one of the roses.
    “A striking plant with yellow blooms stood amongst the roses”.
    The plant was NOT a rose. It was counted as distinct from their number. It was surrounded by roses.
    And for absolute clarity – you can include OTHER in the first example (“stood among the OTHER roses”) without changing the meaning. You CANNOT say “stood amongst the OTHER roses” unless there was another group of roses in our story.

  • Dan

    Fundamentally, writing is about offering the best possible communication. If saying (or writing) something one way communicates the intended meaning even a little bit better than saying it another way, then the distinction is made. To me, the choice between “among” or “amongst” is much like the choice between the uses of “a” or “an.”

    All such “this or that” rules stem from this need to say—thus, to hear and to see—words more clearly. (Humans are predators; hence, being misunderstood can, sometimes, even prove fatal.) The fact is, that “an apple” is easier on the tongue as on the ear (and from which associations, travels, mentally, to the eye). For such reasons we have made it a rule never to say (hence, nor to read) “a apple.”

    The use of “among” versus “amongst” seems not yet so well established. Perhaps that’s because its use is notably more subtle than the “a” or “an” distinction—so making that much more difficult, the designing of a rule. Nonetheless, ask yourself which of the alternatives you feel rolls better off the tongue:

    “…among a…” or “…amongst a”
    “…amongst the” or “… among the …”
    “… among her” or “…amongst her…”
    “… amongst ten …” or “among ten …”
    —etc.

    Then write, accordingly.

    Just like “a” versus “an,” I use “among” or “amongst” as each sentence or phrase demands. Although I try to avoid occasions of close association I, occasionally, have even used alternative versions in successive sentences. Writing is a(n) art AND (a) craft. As (a) writer, your choices between such distinctions are what make it so.

    Another way of looking at it is from the scientific point of view. Nature never, ever—ever—wastes energy! Accordingly, if it takes even the most miniscule bit more breath (aspiration) to say, “among her” than “amongst her” it will naturally opt for the least demanding choice. So, the rule could well be,

    “With each intended use, let nature decide.”

  • Jeff

    @Dan… or maybe, as a writer, you could choose to use the word with the correct spelling and meaning, in preference to the other word! Humans as predators, and nature versus science? And you decide according to your sentence or phrase? Really? “A” gets used before a word starting with a consonant, and “an” gets used before a word that starts with a vowel. There’s conservation of energy for you – you don’t even have to think about that one. “Among” is “one of” – “amongst” is “shared between” or “surrounded by”.

  • Kark

    Although this thread is now pretty old, I just had to air my own opinion on this. Having read (most of) the comments here, I must say that I agree entirely with the last one by Jeff. I admit I may be wrong – as myriad Google searches seem to imply – but for me “amongst” has always had a feeling of “surrounded by, but not one of”, whereas “among” feels more like “being one of”, both regardless of the centrality of position, or even of whether or not the subjects are physically “together”. For example, I would say, “there was tension amongst the troops” but “the enemy is among us”, i.e. the enemy is (at least pretending to be) one of us. I have never, until today, come across anyone with the same opinion, despite working amongST seasoned erudite English language teachers! For what it’s worth, thank you Jeff for satisfying my need to know I’m not the only ‘crack-headed atom-splitter’!

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