Among/Amongst: Is there a Difference?

By Maeve Maddox

I first heard amongst used when I went to live in England. To my ear it sounds quaint and very “British.” I especially like it in the expression “to put the cat amongst the pigeons.”

If there ever was a difference between the two words, it is lost now.

According to the OED, amongst is

[l]ess usual in the primary local sense than among, and, when so used, generally implying dispersion, intermixture, or shifting position.

But as Fowler said many years ago,

Such a distinction may be accepted on authority, but can hardly be made convincing by quotations even on the liberal scale of the OED.

He goes on to speculate that the reason that one or the other form hasn’t fallen out of use may be owing to “the unconscious desire for euphony or ease,” and illustrates his opinion this way:

few perhaps would say amongst strangers with among to hand, amongst us is easier to say than among us.

For American speakers of English, the question is irrelevant. Americans say among.

I hope that British speakers will continue to use amongst whenever they feel like it.

YouTube video: Among vs. Amongst

Click here to get access to 800+ interactive grammar exercises!


Related Articles

Share


118 Responses to “Among/Amongst: Is there a Difference?”

  • Thomas

    Funny you should post this now; only yesterday I looked up the difference between “while” and “whilst”. The difference is exactly the same: none, but British occasionally use “whilst” whilst Americans use “while” exclusively.

  • Maeve

    Thomas,
    I almost included whilst and while in this post, but thought I might use them in a separate post. You’ve saved me the effort.

    Thanks.

  • Jeremy Dalton

    As with most mainly British words, ‘amongst’ suits situations that require finesse.

  • azadeh

    hi what is the difference between climate and wheather

  • Simon Townley

    As a British journo and copywriter, I’d consider both ‘amongst’ and whilst’ to be archaic and now generally out of use. I’ve spent years editing them out of articles and copy written by others.
    For my sins, I used to edit a business magazine written mainly by lawyers, and they loved using ‘amongst’ and ‘whilst’, mainly, I think, because they thought it made them sound more important. I think they make the writer sound a bit pompous and old fashioned now. I can understand that some may find them elegant or euphonic. I just find them a bit fuddy-duddy.

  • Dawn

    “I hope that British speakers will continue to use amongst whenever they feel like it.”
    Maeve, I adore this! Thank you!

    As an English translator working abroad, these kinds of American vs. British/Aussie/NZ English questions come up all the time. I hope you continue the series!

    First/firstly, different from/different to, while/whilst, commas before “and” in a series…

  • Limnerl

    I have trouble understanding why some people use the word “as” in sentences like this:

    I am going to call Margaret tomorrow, as I am too busy tonight.

    It is annoying.

  • Diddums

    Hmm – if someone edited out my ‘amongst’, I would edit it straight back in. The word is only dead when it’s out of use, and I’m still using it.

    I liked the article. :-).

  • Andy

    Amongst is archaic for among and has no use in current English writing. There is no bell or whistle that makes the former’s use any better than the latter’s.

  • Gary G

    …or any worse.

  • Mark Stewart

    I can’t comment on the use of these words in British English, since I don’t regularly communicate with others in that dialect.

    However, the use of “amongst” and “whilst” in American English is typical of a writer reaching for an appearance of sophistication by the use of pompous styling rather than effective or substantive content.

    Other idiotic words used to make stuff sound fancy include “methodology” and “functionality”, which serve only to add unnecessary syllables to the words “method” and “function”.

    For a professional field absolutely overflowing with pseudo-intellectual twits and unnecessarily complicated terminology, see Instructional Design.

  • Daniel Mikhailov

    Firstly, While v. Whilst. “While” is used for regular constructions of sentences, while, “whilst” for conditional sentence or that subjunctive, pluperfect junk. For example, using the movie Snatch as a good example, “[If] You stop me again whilst I’m walking, and I’ll cut your bleeping jacobs off.” (Bricktop)

    Amongst, I figure might have the same idea behind it, but it doesn’t seem to have as much conditionality as a word like Whilst.

    I actually like the explanation that it just sounds better “amongst us” “amongst celebrities”

  • Sue

    Andy, get your facts right before you spout off, love. “Among” and “while” are the archaic forms, the “st” having been added much later. As in the wonderful quote from Snatch (thanks Daniel), some of us Brits use them when speaking before a vowel sound to avoid a glottal stop.

    I’m finding the ranting a bit much; as Diddums pointed out, words only die when people stop using them. Reflect on the fact that 50% of the words we’re using here were stolen from other languages and the other 50% were invented by Shakespeare to plug the gaps…

  • English minor

    This is in regard to Sue’s reply to Andy about which is archaic “among” and “while” or the forms adding the “st.”

    This seems to bring up anoter topic for debate, the use of the word archaic. Most see it, in reference to language, as a word or form of the word that is antiquated or for purposes of speech, used very rarely. So actually in this sense, isn’t it quite possible that a word considered or refered to as “archaic” is, in fact, the form of the word that actually came later, but for some reason was never unable to unseat the former as most apporiate or most used?

    Yes, way too much time on my hands.

  • Dottie

    Is it ever okay to describe something as “very” wonderful? I have a friend who does it frequently; whether she’s talking about a wedding or a vacation or anything she considers “very” wonderful. Isn’t “wonderful” enough of a superlative?

  • Diana

    I’m an Australian I use amongst frequently. We would say there is a snail amongst the roses or there are snails among the roses – how hard is that? I remember being taught the different usage of while and whilst but it was more complicated and I’ve forgotton. I do know sometimes whilst SOUNDS correct. Why can’t Americans admit they have rewritten the English language Fall for Autumn color for colour. I couldn’t care less – just stop pretending you haven’t done it.
    Diana

  • Telanis

    Once again, you greatly over-exaggerate . . . lots of Americans say amongst, whilst, etc., including me.

  • JJ

    I am neither British nor a fuddy-duddy. Yet in some some instances, I prefer to use amongst and whilst. I am not being pretentious or pompous. It helps the flow of the sentence at times.

    I do agree with Diana, we americans have done a bit of shoddy work on the mother tongue. I would prefer autumn and colour along with all the other words us americans have hatcheted.

    Incidentally- I say Neither as NIEther not NEEther and Envelope as ONvelope not INvelope. My grandmother would have knocked us silly had we not had proper elocution.

  • Maeve

    Telanis,
    You WERE being amusing with the word “over-exaggerate” weren’t you?

    Diana and JJ,
    I’ve always felt that “colour” was more, well, colorful than plain “color.” From what I’ve read, the u-less spelling is creeping into use in the Old Country.

    I can’t agree with the assessment that “we Americans have done a bit of shoddy work on the mother tongue.” Some American spelling and usage has taken a different direction from that used in England, but the same is true of other English-speaking countries. Some American usage preserves earlier forms than what is current in England.

    What should exercise us more than regional differences like among and amongst, fall and autumn, is the egregious wrenching of grammatical forms so common in the speech of celebrities and bloggers on both sides of the pond.

    For example,

    “Me and my friends love the movies.”
    and
    “They sent the invitation to Harry and I.”

  • Stylas

    Firstly, I have to say Mark Stewart’s comments, not the words he’s criticised, are idiotic. Method and methodology as well as function and functionality have different meanings and are used in different contexts, the same as term and terminology, which he used in his post. English spoken in Britain is not a dialect, I wouldn’t even go as far as to say American English is a dialect!

    Secondly, I agree with Diddims and thank Diana for pointing out there is a subtle difference between among and amongst.

    Again, like Diana, I know when it sounds right but find it defficult to explain. I think it might relate to the physical situation of the object/ person in question.

    E.g. “Cuba is among one of the most wonderful countries I have ever visited.” Where the other countries referred to may be on the other side of the world. Compare that to – “He was in amongst hundreds of other similar people.” This implies that there was situated in a crowd of people.

    American posters, on this blog and others at dailywritingtips, are often very quick to condemn English words. Such words are often in common use this side of the Atlantic as well as in Australia and NZ. (JJ – I’m not referring to all Americans.) If adding additional letters to words is unnecessary, why do so many Americans insist on using ‘gotten’ instead of ‘got’!?!

  • koru

    Stylas –

    got – gotten… excellent point!

  • Sylvia

    > He was a bad writer, among other things
    > He was a bad writer amongst other things

    Somehow “among” needs the preceding comma, yet “amongst” can get by without it, especially when spoken.

    Stylas said: “I think it might relate to the physical situation of the object/ person in question.” I’d like to add that it may also have something to do with the similarity of the comparison group:

    > He was a king among men
    > He was a king amongst kings

    …Canadians can go either way 😉

  • Andy

    I’m an American who thinks the English language should have one unified spelling and it should be the British way. Words look more elegant in British English.

  • Sylvia

    Andy said:
    > Words look more elegant in British English.

    cf.:

    BE: colour, honour, neighbour, labour
    AE: color, honor, neighbor, labor
    BE & AE: contour, velour, paramour, troubadour, glamour

    BE: theatre, litre, lustre, mitre, spectre, centre, calibre, fibre
    AE: theater, liter, luster, miter, specter, center, caliber, fiber
    BE & AE: acre, lucre, massacre, mediocre

    BE: organise(ize), recognise(ize), realise(ize); ratio of ise:ize=3:2
    AE: organize, recognize, realize

    BE: analogue, catalogue, dialogue
    AE: analog(ue), catalog(ue), dialog(ue); -og endings growing

    Which ones do you pick? For example, I think the -ize endings fit better than the -ise ones, and most of the “re” endings are better off as “er”. But “our” is usually better than “or”. I used to hate “catalog” but now it seems a lot more acceptable.

    “Among” vs. “Amongst”? Hands down, “among” would be my pick although I use both of them.

  • 10thMan

    Let me just clear this up, once and for all.

    Technically, among and amongst are interchangeable; using one over because of correctness is ridiculous. However, the natural usage of these word– the way we would use them without thinking about it– is slightly different.

    When there are three or more of something being discussed, its easy. If you’re talking about the relations between the individual constituents of the group, use amongst (EX. Katie, Ashley, and Rachel must divide the work up amongst themselves.). If you are using it to mean within the group, use among (EX. Her arrival caused a stir among the people).

    Amongst is generally used in active, rather than passive sentences (in which you would use among.)

  • Wilson

    Among, amongst, the two words has no difference, any one that comes first, but i prefere to use “amongst” it sounds sweateable.

  • John M

    I agree with the posters that state that the differences between BE and AE is highly exaggerated. The worst offenders seem to be the ones with their own agenda. To say that Americans “simplified” the spelling is a a gross exaggeration. Most, if not all American spelling conventions existed on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean during Noah Webster’s time. At the time the British simply have a better affinity for all things French which is today reflected in the spelling of many words. (big deal)
    The same thing goes for words such as “autumn” and “fall”. Americans did not invent the word “fall” (which is a much older word in the language than the Latin based “autumn) For whatever reason Americans simply have more of an affinity for saying “fall” but there is nothing at all unusual about saying “autumn” in the US.
    Brits might be annoyed by what they consider to be “silly” Americanisms, yet Americans are often equally annoyed by equally silly “Briticism” Take for example ” the words “nappy” “dummy” and “full stop”. To an American these and many similar words sound like childish neologisms for “diaper” “pacifier” and “period”., We also think it’s silly that the British laugh at the word “pants” as it is a cognate in many other languages such as French, Spanish and Italian. And by the way, Americans also DO periodically use the word “trousers”. (I know my grandparents did)
    The point I am trying to make is that it’s true the the differences between AE and BE are often highly exaggerated and nowhere nearly as significant as many many native and non-native speakers make them out to be.

  • Deborah Kean

    I still use amongst and whilst, and just got asked by my Italian student of English, why and what’s the difference? So I hit goofle and found this. It may be “fuddy-duddy” but it’s habit to me, I do it and have never thought about it before!
    I find my ESOL students are often very confused by the differences between AE and BE. Such differences are considerable, and in New Zealand where I live, students find plenty of scope for confusion. New Zealand thanks to Hollywood, and Microsoft spell checkers, is changing from NZE to AmE! No wonder the students sometimes don’t know what’s right!
    In one building the “lift” will direct them to the “foyer” and in another the “elevator” directs them to the “lobby”

  • Milt

    Hrmm … I posted this in another thread, but the debate here seems pretty lively. Honestly, I don’t know about the references to dialect, but for me (an American) I don’t feel distinctions between British English and American English are helpful in this discussion. Without further ado …

    = = = =

    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 these examples (used by Lloyd in the other thread):

    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!

    = = = =

    I’ve read a few other posters that gave analogous examples in this thread. I hope this is helpful … I don’t see any need for a flame war, or pedantry, here! 🙂

  • frank

    There isn’t much real difference, as someone suggested “amongst us” is easier to say than “among us” – plus it is clear that the former is two separate words, there is potential for the latter to sound like one word IE “amongus” which some might misinterpret as a slang term for something big (cf “humongous”). Another example of this would be “or some…”. When written differences are largely non-existent but when spoken confusion might arise.

  • Deborah Kean

    Having read some of the postings above (which I hadn’t before) I have to add that I also would edit ‘amongst’ back in, if it was edited out. The same with ‘whilst’.
    IMO, British English isn’t the ‘dialect’, it’s the original, the real and genuine English. American English is the dialect, as is the fast-disappearing New Zealand English – being rapidly destroyed by American English – to an Americanism, “thanks a bunch, Hollywood!” (The low intellect and lack of education of many, if not most, New Zealanders is a factor as well.)

  • Marcus

    Isn’t the topic of conversation about when to use it? It is already stated that the OED says “…when so used, generally implying dispersion, intermixture, or shifting position.” So there IS a difference. Amongst is used to imply dispersion. “He was placed among the group.” No dispersion. “He was chosen as winner amongst his peers.” Implying Dispersion..

  • Sam

    Amongst those who appreciate “st”: isn’t it lovely to have a pair of words to chose from and not worry about which is correct in a particular situation?

    Among those against the use: the efficiency gained in spoken and written word is well worth the loss of choice.

    ;->

  • Praetorian

    Andy on November 29, 2007 2:27 am ‘Amongst is archaic for among and has no use in current English writing. There is no bell or whistle that makes the former’s use any better than the latter’s.’

    There is a ‘ring of truth’ in what you state, but please consider this:
    It is most apparent that many think that English revolves ’round about their usage; however, as Diddums above points out that it is well in use therefore I must disagree in its archaical use. Nevertheless any narrow-minded bloke need not concern himself with the censoring of anothers’ usage if it is true that their country of origin uses not the spelling because they did not invent the British English rendering; then what is the big deal? Whence you come or whether you go you choose to savour the flow. I do hope this helps those who might find themselves in a slough. A joke from my youth: Be careful not to create others into your own image lest the world be as ugly…hahahahaha

  • Andee

    First let me say that I find it hilarious that this conversation has been going on for three years 🙂

    Next let me say, I don’t care which word is used, but the arguments for different distinctions are fascinating to me.

    The thing made me want to post is the AS/BE debate. Deborah said in September, “English isn’t the ‘dialect’, it’s the original, the real and genuine English. American English is the dialect…”

    I think both are dialects. Correction: All–BE, AE, AusE, NZE–are dialects. One is not better or worse, on a global scale (national pride notwithstanding of course) simply because one has existed longer than another.

    What Americans call a “ranch,” Australians call a “station.” What Americans call “gasoline,” Brits call “petrol.” The differences exist even within the countries. For instance…I live in the midwestern US, and when we have company we might “take them out to eat.” I have friends in the deep south, and when we visit them, they “carry us out to eat.”

    Personally, I love the differences. I love the way our language is able to stretch, grow, change, based on any influence, and even to absorb words from other languages and make them our own.

    The idea that any variation of our beautiful language is being eroded away by another is sad to me. But I think Deborah is a bit harsh in blaming Americans for the decline of NZ English. In Microsoft, one can add any word one likes to the spell check dictionary; it’s quite easy. And I hardly think Hollywood should be condemned for making movies that appeal to people all over the world. That seems like a good thing to me.

    Let me end with this: I’m so glad I found this site. I am in love with the English language–in all its variations. And, as you can tell, I often wax verbose about the most minute of topics. It seems I’ve found a niche where my neurosis is the norm. Yay!

  • Andee

    Is “eroded away” a redundant phrase?

    : )

  • Deborah Kean

    To Andee,
    Regarding Microsoft spell check – the default as installed in all the language schools and offices where I have worked for the past 5 years, is US English.
    The latest iteration of Word is even worse – it isn’t possible to change that default! (I have always tried to change it wherever I am, to NZ E).
    So, a curse on Microsoft, I use OpenOffice and it lets me do that, but every new document I have to ‘teach it’ to use – as I do, purely as my strike against American cultural hegemony, UK English.
    Pity I can’t do the same in the workplace! Can you imagine what a pain it is/would be, to write a document for a class (I am an ESOL teacher) and ‘teach’ the US dictionary all the correct spellings each time! I don’t have time, neither does anyone else). Kids here use American spelling because they don’t even know the difference! But when I am marking my students’ work, I mark Americanisms wrong – they come to NZ to learn English – they could go to Japan, Korea or the USA to learn American).
    Hollywood makes movies for money. I won’t watch American movies, and yes, I am serious about that. (Sadly it means I have not been to the cinema for around 2 years.)

  • Michael Corey

    I was raised in a middle-class Australian family saying ‘amongst’ and ‘whilst’, but, equally, some situations call for ‘among’ and ‘while’. We didn’t use the former words to sound pompous. We used them in different ways to make subtly different points. I wouldn’t write ‘all the whilst’, for instance, and ‘while’ gives a sense of referring to a longer period than ‘whilst’ when used at the start of the sentence.

  • Peter G

    Language is a living entity, and whichever form of English we speak, it can be nothing but fascinating.

    The ‘or/our’ question is an easy one to understand. The British did not, and do not use the ‘our’ form because they wish to maintain an affinity with the French. In Britain, both forms were acceptable, and frequently used. Following the American War of Independence, the Americans, through Mr. Webster, adopted their spelling as a sort of national badge of identity. Subsequently, and in response, the British too made changes. The Americans and the British were simply poking out their tongues at each other.

    It is also true, that British English continued to evolve independently, and the Americans continue to use words in the way that the English once did. So it is we, from Britain who have made many of the changes. For example, the ‘H’ in ‘herb’ was always dropped in proper English, but in English speaking countries other than the U.S. it is now always, thankfully, aspirated. (Sorry, I have no linguistic prejudice, but ‘Erb’ just grinds).

    As far as many of the other words that have been written about are concerned, there is no snobbery involved, they simply form part of the language we have been brought up to use in our respective homelands/cities/towns/villages.

  • Garrison

    Let us not forget that we in the United States brought English with us when we were The British. Just because we are living in “The Colonies” and established our political independence, does not mean we are not speaking English. All those people in Australia started out speaking “British English” as well and you see how it has changed.

    In terms of numbers, “British English” is spoken only by a small minority of the people who speak English.

    British Population: 63,000,000

    U.S. Population: 305,000,000

    Australian Population: 23,000,000

    Non-British English speakers outnumber British English speakers 5 to 1.

    I completely understand the British desire to hold on to the English language and they should be proud that they were the source of what has become the world’s “Universal Language,” but the language has grown beyond Britain.

    Like it or not “American English” is what the rest of the world is learning as their second language. “American English” is spoken by air traffic controllers all over the world (even in Britain). That’s right, Russian, French, German, Swedish, Italian, Polish, and every other airline pilot and air traffic controller in the world converse in American English, right down to the use of “A-Okay” and “alright” and “how you doin’?” and every other imaginable Americanism that graces the airwaves. They even swear in American English.

    So, regardless of which form of English is “correct” or “better” the American form seems to be getting used a lot more than the British form. Sometimes to the detriment of the language, I’m afraid. But, it is what it is.

  • Michael

    Ah Garrison me old peach cobbler, for one whose grasp of history is normally so good, you make a couple of blues in an otherwise decent analysis:

    Neither British nor American Standard is inherently better, agreed, but for those of us outside of the United States, American English is non-standard and many (but by no means all) American spelling variants are simply incorrect, functionally speaking. I would be pulled up for writing ‘color’ or ‘center’ or ‘prolog’ in a paper. (Strangely, I would also be reprimanded if I wrote ‘organize’ or ‘connexion’ or ‘waggon’ – even though they are BrE, albeit less common.) In this sense, BrE, or more properly since I’m in Melbourne, Australian English is better and correct. Many non-Americans, myself included, are not suggesting AmE is inferior but just that it’s not ours. You keep it. You enjoy it.

    Indeed, it could be argued that the vast majority of English speakers in the world use neither AmE no BrE but a local variant of World English: Dunglish, Chinglish, Singlish, New Zealander English, Jamaican, Australian, Scots, South African, Indian, etc. The figures you cite are but a fraction of those who employ English as the lingua franca. Remember, a couple of hundred million Indians have made the language their own. Hundreds of millions of people outside of the USA are shaping and playing with the language in countless deligthful ways. But if you want to talk standards, then it’s Oxford spelling that is used by the United Nations and umpteen other international institutions.

    By the by, ‘alright’ seems to be more acceptable in standard BrE than in AmE. In Australia we would say ‘How are you going?’ not ‘How you doing?’. And yes ‘A-OK’ is one of those wonderful American natives that has pollinated many Englishes. All speakers of the language have Americans to thank for adding myriad words and parlances and idioms in the last century. But we should also thank Asians, Germans, Italians, French, Africans, Australians, Maori and many others.

    But yes, American spelling, grammar and pronunciation is much more common in cyberspace and other media. Spare a thought, however, for my Dutch friends who worry not just about losing the odd u or whether r should come before e or what have you, but their entire language as it’s subsumed by English.

  • Deborah Kean

    @ Garrison who said “Like it or not “American English” is what the rest of the world is learning as their second language.”
    Not true. Here in New Zealand I am an ESOL teacher, and always make a point of teaching British English because my students request it!
    Vicky

  • Michael

    @Deborah: Well, I’m tickled pink to hear that people are requesting BrE. Though I am rather worried that exposure to Kiwi English will see them saying ‘kittle’ when they mean ‘kettle’ and ‘sucks’ when they mean the number after five. 🙂

    I am also a wee bit vexed to hear that your loyalty to Mother England forbids you from going to the theatre lest you’re exposed to American linguistic imperialism! (Said with more than a small measure of irony!) I mean, you eat ice cream, right? And surely you’ve used ‘bulldozer’ or ‘airport’ in a sentence? I mean, I agree that ‘aerodrome’ is a lovely word but it’s likely to get you funny looks from the cabbie.

    Oh, and a gentle reminder to alternate single and double quotation marks when quoting a quote. Thus: ‘Like it or not “American English” is what…’ or “Like it or not ‘American English’ is what…” (Since Garrison used doubles to begin with, his words would best be put in singles.)

    I’m in solidarity with you re the spellcheckers (an American word, no doubt), which I’m certain will bring about the fall of Western Civilization just as surely as when they allowed popstars’ names to be used in Scrabble. I use Pages ’09 which offers various English standards but not Oxford BrE – my preference – so ‘-ize’ triggers warning lights and I find myself using it in Canadian English mode. The MacBook comes with the American Oxford Dictionary and Thesaurus included, and I find them very useful, but nothing beats leafing through the pages of a solid ‘real time’ dictionary. If all else fails you can use it to prop open the door, as my 1944 edition of the Shorter OED does. (The 1989 edition is two volumes so you can prop open two doors!)

  • Deborah Kean

    Hi Michael,
    Don’t worry, my students won’t hear kittle or sucks from me! (I have a British accent inherited from the olds.)
    Also, I don’t like ice cream, it’s sad but true – occasionally I will eat gelato, but only because my Neapolitan friend in Wellington makes it for me! (To be polite, really). As for going to the cinema to watch films – I watch science fiction only, (fantasy at a pinch), because frankly, I find everything else boring – but that’s just my personal preference…
    Pop stars’ names are acceptable in Scrabble? Noooooooooooooooo! (I haven’t played for a while.)
    I have a plethora of dictionaries, including the Collins NZ dictionary, the first book I reviewed for a particular paper… How do you write a review of a dictionary? Very, very carefully..
    I take your point about the quotes, you are correct. I often mess that up, especially when my keyboard decides to randomly change its settings. (I am not a computer expert!)
    Deb

  • Vicky

    I’m surprised no one has mentioned that British English uses the t ending in many other examples as well as amongst and whilst-

    learnt(BrE)/learned(AE)
    spilt/spilled
    spelt/spelled
    Some such as built are the same across both.

    I’d never realised there was a difference – initially assuming it was just a dialect thing, but as it turns out, American English -ed what in the UK is -t.

  • Nicole

    Diana —

    Actually, England first used the word “fall” and then later changed to autumn. In America, both autumn and fall are acceptable. Fall, however, is more common. Some people also name their kids Autumn.

    You can use either “among” or “amongst” here. Today in class I actually wrote “amongst” (I was writing a letter to Queen Victoria for history class). It was acceptable and fine.

    Americans didn’t “change” English. The English changed English. After all, we’re all Brits whose pronunciation changed into a different dialect of English. All in all, it’s English nonetheless. English is English no matter what dialet. Whether it be Australian, American, Canadian, Scottish, etc.

    And don’t tell me Australians haven’t changed the king’s English any less than the Americans. Australian’s have countless slang terms, such as, “brekkie,” “barbie,” etc. I have been to Australia and have an Australian friend.

    We all speak English. Just different dialects.

  • Trevor Mcinsley

    I had no idea ‘amongst’ was not used in America, frankly it’s not an issue one way or another but I feel it does have a nicer ring to it than ‘among’ which sounds like it just stops abrup…

    Also ‘a mong’ could sound like a derogatory term in some accents… though to be honest that’s a longshot and something I have only just realised.

  • Eric

    I am an American writer and feel that the words “among” and “amongst” have subtly different meanings. While they are generally interchangeable, it simply isn’t true to call one obsolete or archaic and the other modern and correct.

    The example above, the phrases:

    “lets discuss this issue among partners”
    “lets discuss this issue amongst partners”

    Those two sentences, to my eye, have different meanings. The former is a discussion of an issue which is occurring between partners (an issue among partners). The latter is a discussion that parters are having together (discuss amongst partners).

    In common usage, I have seen “amongst” used to refer more immediately to “the space around something”, whereas, “among” is more referential to “the connections between things”, even if the meanings substantially overlap.

    I travel the US and Canada for work, so I don’t feel this is likely a regional issue, though I find that in more educated cities, the word “amongst” has been gaining prevalence versus the more Germanic sounding “among” in daily speech.

  • John Maffett

    Amongst is definitely still in use by Americans, and amongst those who use it regularly I find no indication that they are trying to be pompous, arrogant, or sophisticated. I’m sure Jerry Clower did not have that in mind when he said “Well just shoot up here amongst us ’cause one of us has gots to have some relief”.

  • Riles

    By the way Maddox, a great article, as evidenced by the debate that followed.

    Honestly the majority of American English developed when there was no “standard” English, there weren’t many rules when it came to grammar and there was no standard for spelling.

    If you look at the real text of the Declaration of Independence you’ll see many words spelled different ways but meaning the same thing, the same with any sort of English text (country of origin not a factor) written prior to the declaration.

    In American history we are taught that it wasn’t until Webster had written the first dictionary that a standard was even set.

    The latter bit, and more complex grammar and spelling rules came to prevent Southern Blacks the ability to vote (because they came up with a reading test that you had to pass in order to vote). Whether you’re English or you’re American or even from Zimbabwe. It’s a fact that American English holds all of America’s history and honestly, I wouldn’t change a thing.

    If I want to use a British spelling for something, I most certainly can. If I want to use an American spelling than I’ll do so.

    American English vs. British English really only matters to the respective countrymen. The rest of the world doesn’t care if things don’t match up! They’ll learn the version that they find is most useful for their purposes.

    Also, I’d say that they are both separate languages rather than dialects.

    Dialects are completely regional, have no standard spelling (like both American English and British English does) and over all is about how the speakers speak. It’s rather about pronunciation and slang. That’s what dialect is.

    If you don’t understand dialect consider picking up Huckleberry Finn or Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain (for wonderful examples of respective Southern U.S. Dialects). If you want a more modern example pick up Bloody Jack by L.A. Meyer (which is a wonderful example of a Cockney Accent spelled phonetically). You only have to read one or two pages to get the point.

    It’s not proper in American English to spell Dialogue as “Dialog” that’s just someone’s spelling of it where it’s obvious that spelling isn’t their forte.

    I used learnt and learned both. Learned seems to me to be a fresher learning of something.. while learnt is something you might have learned as a child.

    Same with Spelt and spelled.

    That’s the thing about language, it’s not supposed to be rigid and stuffy. The beauty of language is that it’s speakers, and writer’s change the underlying structure every time that they write or speak it. It’s supposed to change with the times.

  • bryan

    I was browsing through some of the comments and noticed some bandwagon racism going around. Sure, everyone loves to hate on Americans, but why? For the people saying something along the lines of Americans hating English and therefore rewriting it, you are the worst. Geeze, you act like we band together and change the spelling of words for fun.

    Color comes from the Latin word “colos.” Why was a ‘u’ added to the word when it became English? Who knows. Why was the ‘u’ taken out for common usage in America? Who knows. When did this occur? Too long ago for anyone to still be alive.

    The same goes for other words. It’s all good and well to know the differences, but to accuse someone of butchering a language? Ridiculous.

  • Andrea

    Nice to see a single post resulting in over three years of mostly civil comments. Bravo, all.

    I’m new here but had to comment. My use of “amongst” resulted in a paper being knocked down a few points during my master’s program in rhet comp. The professor wrote: “Andrea, no one has used the word ‘amongst’ in the last hundred years. You must drop the ‘st’ at once.”

    Five years later, I’m still using “amongst” quite regularly, thank you very much.

    The same professor also chided me in front of the class, saying very matter-of-factly that The Long, Hot Summer was adapted from a Tennessee Williams play. (I was right. It’s Faulkner’s novel The Hamlet, though the tones could be considered a bit Williams-esque.)

    He has a PhD and tenure. I’m a blogger. Go figure.

  • Jim

    Tangential comment about things that bother me:

    Many Australians don’t seem to be able to pronounce “a” when it ends a word. When I travelling abroad and I met Australians, I was not from Canada but “Cana-der,” and American friends were from “Amerik-er.” I suspect this trait is probably a regional thing.

    It’s not related to speech patterns, but I also find the Fact that many Older Americans seem to like to Capitalize Random Nouns when they are trying to make a Point when Writing. I notice that in older advertisements and posters, this was common. More evidence of the influence of advertising?

  • Carrie

    I love listening to people speak. Their word choice, how they couple words together, pronunciation, economy vs extravagance, delivery… I love the insight it gives to how each persons mind works. I cannot see how there could ever be too many words or variations to words for a speaker to choose from. I welcome them all.

  • Fiona

    @Sue: Watch the patronising tone, love. Reflect on how it feels to be on the receiving end of the imperative.
    Perhaps you should declare exactly why “some … Brits” have issues with glottal stops.

  • venqax

    For what it’s worth, as an American this is somewhat amusing, but moot. Like the thread on “programme vs program”. We say while and among. We don’t say amongst or whilst at all.

    That, so it won’t ruffle too much down, is a generalism. Yes, there are Americans who say amongst and whilst. But I know of nowhere that wouldn’t be considered an eccentricity, something done for purposeful impression of some type, or simply an affectation. There are also Americans, and others I assume, who still carry walking sticks, wear dress gloves, monocles, spats and top hats. Mr. Peanut pops to mind. What whilst and amongst– and while wer’re at it, betwixt– are to current Am English is what Mr. Peanut is to a modern peanut in 3-button suit, with Lasik surgery, and a nice wrist watch. So there’s how peanuts can be illustrative.

    While…it is true you could discern distinct meanings for the words, they are not in fact used in such a way with any kind of consistency so the distinction a writer might intend is irrelevant. Similar distinctions like healty/healthful, complex/complicated etc, are already on life-support. And I don’t know that, historically, there has been any such difference between among/while and their st versions.

  • SB

    As a non-native English speaker, I have always had the feeling that whilst would be the more appropriate form to replace a word like whereas. Does that make sense? Also, whilst appears to be used to express ‘while doing something’ without a verb: whilst talking, whilst walking. Am I wrong?

  • DW

    Extraordinary and excellent! I love the fact that this post has been kept alive for so long – 3 and a half years! Thanks to everyone for their posts which have been informative and entertaining to say the least.

    We can celebrate the fact that there is such huge interest in the topic and as long as there is, love of words, the quirkiness and nuances of language and attitudes to variants will never die. Hooray!

    Great site – thank you.

  • Chris (or, Buster)

    American’s use amongst, well Catholic Americans.

    Thou art blessed amongst women.

  • Linda Moore

    This is impressive! While (not whilst) writing a note on facebook I used the word amongst. It had me curious as to which version of the word would be ‘more correct’ if that is even possible. Upon googling my query I found myself here reading all of these posts regarding the difference. I am astounded at the length of time the discussion has lasted. From humorous to erudite; I have gleaned, well, I’m not quite sure! But truly enjoy learning more about our lively and interesting language 🙂

  • Sean

    Don’t you hate it when Americans synonymise “Quaint” with being British.
    Although we must give them their dues… being American and not stereotyping the world just wouldn’t seem right.

  • Fred in Raleigh

    I’m an American southerner living near the east coast and have heard (and used) “amongst” all my life in certain situations. One poster here compared it to the use of jargon in the instructional field, an assessment with which I strongly disagree. As I think now about where “amongst” is preferred, I actually think OED’s distinction makes sense.

    Let’s get one thing straight: The words are interchangeable and yes, how the chosen word rolls off the tongue will be a primary determinant of which version is used. But I would use “amongst” in the following example:

    “Your sunglasses are somewhere amongst all these boxes.”

    Here is where I would use “among.”

    “Among the few serious contenders for the position, she’s got the the best shot.”

    “Amongst” works in the first example because it implies that the item of interest is to be found somewhere in a collection that is widely dispersed or at least difficult to comb through.

    “Among” works in the second example because the field of interest is limited or well-contained.

    I don’t know why OED is right, but I just think it is.

    “We’ll need to split the cost among just us three.” sounds better than “…amongst just us three.” However, it sounds better to say “Amongst the hundreds of employees there are are a few that really stand out as leaders.”

    As for “whilst”, it does sound rather antiquated. If I were to use it, I could envision the following diaglogue:

    “Whilst I peel the potatoes, would you mind slicing the carrots?”

    “Sure, and ‘whilst’ we cook, Junior and Bobby can go outside and joust.”

  • James Newman

    Simon Townley – Typical of a British journo to speak about sounding pompous while telling us how you like to edit them out because you “find them a bit fuddy-duddy”.

    Who made you leader over the English language?

  • Geoffrey Van Wyk

    ‘Peter is among the policemen’ means Peter is a policeman.

    ‘Peter is amongst the policemen’ means Peter is in the midst of policemen, but not necessarily a policeman himself.

  • venqax

    @GVW: That reminds me of the time I was told that “burned” is the past tense of the verb “to burn”, while “burnt” was an adjective . So, it is proper to say the fired burned all night, and touching it would give you a burnt finger. The distinction is concise and clear, but I don’t think it is true.

    In General Am, “amongst” is simply non-standard. It is common in the southern American regional-dialect.

  • Rose

    Somehow I found myself looking for a new word for my novel, and ended up reading most of this conversation.

    From reading this it occurs to me that Canadians seem to have a tad of both, however favoring they are of american english, but perhaps that is just where I live, or the people I associate myself with.

    I must admit that the word ‘amongst’ along with countless other words, seem to wane over time. While amongst is still one of the words that hasn’t seemed to go extinct, it really isn’t all that common. It is as if our lexicons are slowly dying, making people seem more remedial as time passes.

  • venqax

    What about between vs. betwixt? Peter is between the boxes means Peters is in a space that exists with boxes on either side. Peter is betwixt the boxes means Peter is between boxes and it is AD 1623.

    Don’t worry, Sean. You guarantee that “quaint” isn’t the only thing Americans will think about the British.

  • Diane

    Actually, I grew up in Nova Scotia (Canada), and we always said ‘amongst’, not because we were pompous but because it was our natural way of speaking. My family roots are deep in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and extent to Scotland, England, Ireland and Germany. When I began writing, I was told I was wrong to use ‘amongst’. Now I know it’s not wrong, just diffent. I use it in my novels because it is ingrained in our dialect, not because it makes me sound pompous.

    I also grew up saying spelt, not spelled. I can’t wrap my tongue around two LLs and ED. Spelled still comes out spelt.

  • Kevin Beach

    For no authoritative reason, I have always thought that(in BrE at least), “among” referred to something or someone being with things of a different kind, e.g. “cat among the pigeons”, “a giant among dwarves”. However, “amongst” relates to one among a number of the same kind, e.g.”He is a giant amongst men”, “Blessed art thou amongst women”.

  • carolyn Swanson

    I grew up in the southern state of Arkansas. “er” was always substituted for “a” among those who were uneducated. For instance. My sister’s name is Eula and many family member called her Euler. Indiana was Indianer. My father went to live in Indianer.
    they also put the “st” on words like among. Idea was ider. I have no ider where she is. Orkra was orkrie. Go pick some orkie for dinner. Soda water was sodie water. Want was wont. Do you wont a bottle of sodie water. Fellow is feller. Who was that feller out yonder.

  • RW McCoy

    I only stumbled on this one today as I was editing some questions and answers for a friend. The sentence, ‘She is also popular among other celebrities.’ instantly grated on my sense of good English, but the problem wasn’t grammar. It was me.
    As a Canadian, I wasn’t even aware that ‘amongst’ was supposedly British English. Actually, it is widely used in Canada and is probably common in most Commonwealth countries.
    Personally, I am in the OED camp with the idea of ‘amongst’ being dispersed or intermixed. I also suspect, I prefer to use ‘among’ at the beginning of a sentence and ‘amongst’ elsewhere.
    In the mean time, I will be on my guard of correcting others.

  • William Hooper

    Mark Stewart’s comment above nailed it. (April 12, 2008 6:35 pm)

    I couldn’t state it any better. “Amongst” and “whilst” are fine for our British and Australian brothers but for an American to use these words sounds affected. (If any American politician uttered these words he would lose votes.) Perhaps it’s irrational and unfair but “amongst” and “whilst” have the effect of pretentiousness. To my American compatriots don’t go there!

  • Colin

    William Hooper states “If any American politician uttered these words he would lose votes.” Perhaps so, William, but it says more about the
    state of our nation than the politician in question. While we somehow
    accept the garbled elocution of a Sarah Palin, we sneer at the eloquence
    of a Barack Obama?

  • Rich

    @azedeh: climate is over longer periods of time and larger distances. Weather is what’s going on at a certain time and a certain place. So “it’s windy and 90 degrees” describes weather, but “it’s usually windy and about 90 degrees in this area at this time of year” is talking about climate. You cannot predict the weather from climate except in statistical terms. “It will probably be windy today.”

  • Ben

    Just as an aside, there’s a spaceship in Iain M Banks’s novel “Surface Detail” called the “Sense Amid Madness, Wit Amidst Folly”. I have been wondering while reading it whether there is a particular grammatical reason why he uses amid in the first clause and amidst in the second, or whether it was just some unconscious thing. Is it a quote from somewhere? Anyone?

  • venqax

    Good question. Maybe it should just be, “Senst Amidst Madnesst, Witst Amidst Follyst” and we be donst withst it. As the meanderings and speculations here illustrate, the -sts simply add nothing, if they meant something at some point no one knows what it was, and there is no reason to retain them, except for a primarily UK-based perceived value in retaining old things that no longer have any purpose or ….hmmm….now that it comes up…j/k 🙂

  • leni namwocam

    It may be too late to chip in to this post, but I’d just like to point out that:
    a) “Cat amongst the pigeons” sounds better to me, as a UK native;
    b) Sometimes it has more to do with euphony, as in the Snatch example;
    c) While I tend to agree that the use of “amongst” and “whilst” may be “typical of a writer reaching for an appearance of sophistication by the use of pompous styling rather than effective or substantive content”, I must admit to doing this in my work as a translator/editor, where the actual content is the client/author’s remit and my job is to make it look/sound good. I think it is justfiable… for instance, if Thor in the Avengers movie spoke in an Alabama twang, it wouldn’t quite come off.

  • venqax

    While I tend to agree that the use of “amongst” and “whilst” may be “typical of a writer reaching for an appearance of sophistication by the use of pompous styling rather than effective or substantive content”,

    I don’t. It appears from the above that distinctions between among and amongst and while and whilst are pretty much standard in British English. So, if the speaker/writer were British I would not assume anything pompous in making it (unless, of course, it was clearly used incorrectly by British standards). In an American, OTOH, were to say amongst or whilst, it would raise an “alert”, depending on context. Amongst, e.g., is common in some dialects of Am English, but it’s not standard. I don’t know of whilst being common in any American speech. So, yes, coming from an Am it probably would sound affected, maybe depending on context.

  • Kevin Matthew Jones

    I haven’t read all of the comments above, but I use this general rule of thumb: ‘among’ in most contexts, but I use ‘amongst’ when the following word begins with a vowel, because as the article states, it flows better and sounds less awkward.

  • Brian

    Deborah Kean on December 1, 2010 2:40 am
    To Andee,
    Regarding Microsoft spell check – the default as installed in all the language schools and offices where I have worked for the past 5 years, is US English.
    The latest iteration of Word is even worse – it isn’t possible to change that default! (I have always tried to change it wherever I am, to NZ E).
    So, a curse on Microsoft,

    You can get around Microsoft’s dictatorship against non-American English speakers by going into Windows Explorer, to the Office directory, mouse click properties, and remove the read only attribute of the entire folder. Then change the language settings before going out of WE properties.

    And the way American companies treat non-American English speakers shows that Americans are (cultural) dictators.

  • Lindsay

    I hope we can all agree that just because somebody uses a word all the time doesn’t make it proper grammar. So the “I use the word ‘amongst,’ because it sounds better” defenses don’t really fly with me–particularly from the Americans. (I’m American and have no opinion on British usage.)

    I realize the two words are interchangeable, but I think use of the word “amongst” does sound pompous in many instances. Just say among; it’s more commonly used here in the U.S. and it essentially means the same thing. I usually only find it pompous, though, if it is consistently used by the same person in place of the alternative, “among.”

    And interestingly enough, my browser’s spell check keeps marking “amongst” as incorrect.

  • venqax

    But how can that posssibly be? Others on here have told us that Americans make up a tiny portion of English speakers in the world, and everyone outside the provincial USA speaks British. So how can Americans be “cultural dictators”?

    I think the British competitors with Microsoft should come out with their own programs and such. That would teach ’em.

  • Emily

    I’m American and I say amongst probably about as much as I say among.

    Also, I would like to point out that “proper grammar” is not the same as “accepted grammar.” Accepted grammar is the reason languages morph and evolve. It’s what makes languages so amazing. They live and change!

    I believe a stickler for grammar who says one way of saying among vs. amongst is proper grammar and therefore the only acceptable form doesn’t take evolution of languages into account. In writing, stick to the “proper” grammar of the vernacular. In speech, our dialects and quirks in speech are what give us unique voices.

  • James

    I use amongst and whilst and I’ve lived in New Jersey my entire life. I also use among and while. My parents use among and while exclusively, and I don’t know anyone from England or the rest of the Commonwealth…
    Guess I’m just odd.

  • John

    This is funny to me because I’m an American and I use amongst without thinking. I didn’t know I was doing anything unusual until spellcheck told me… I think I picked up “amongst” whilst listening to Lord of the Rings on tape several times.

  • otto mannix

    The use of ‘amongst’ in America most often sounds pretentious, so i rarely use it, although i like the example in the earlier comment “He was one amongst a hundred spectators.” It flows nicely. Also ‘amongst’ can be used to humorous effect here in the states. An example would come to me if I were drunk in a bar!

    Americans do use ‘gotten’ as opposed to ‘got’, when we bother to use the past perfect, but i changed over to ‘got’, not to sound british, but it seems cleaner.

  • Martin

    Wow. So many comments.

    A student in Taiwan asked me what the difference between among and amongst was and I came up with these two sentences.

    “The killer is among these three suspects.”
    “There is a killer amongst us.”

    My parents are British but I grew up in Canada. Both of these sentences seem perfectly natural to me and I would prefer among over amongst and vice versa in each sentence. I suppose I could be familiar with “amongst us” as a set phrase. English is spoken in chunks and we might expect some objects to collate with among and some to collate with amongst depending upon what sounds better to the speaker.

    Oddly enough the explanation that amongst refers to something moving around whereas among implies some sort of choice actually works with these two sentences… but that could just be a coincidence. 🙂

  • Martin

    “The use of ‘amongst’ in America most often sounds pretentious, so i rarely use it, although i like the example in the earlier comment “He was one amongst a hundred spectators.” It flows nicely.”

    Yes! I feel the same way about “amongst us”!

    Let me try another sentence.

    “To find what he was looking for he had to search amongst thousands of objects.”

    Oh dear. How about this one?

    “The object he was looking for was located among the thousands of objects he searched through.”

    Yeah, the idea that amongst refers to “dispersion, intermixture, or shifting position” definitely works for me!

  • Martin

    “‘Peter is among the policemen’ means Peter is a policeman.

    ‘Peter is amongst the policemen’ means Peter is in the midst of policemen, but not necessarily a policeman himself.”

    Yes, this is true too. “The killer is among these three suspects” implies that the killer is one of the suspects but “The killer is amongst us” does not necessarily imply that one of us is the killer, only that the killer is with us in the same room!

  • venqax

    @Martin: These are interesting disitinctions, and could be useful to you in your own writing, but like the difference between healthy and healthful, they have no independent authority in SAE. In American English, there is no distinction denotatively between the definitions of among and amongst. Connotatively, amongst is colloquial or simply old-fashioned. “Peter is among the policemen” (not a very likely way of putting it in SAE, to begin with) could just as well mean he IS a policeman or he is surrounded by them.

  • Matthew

    There was a survey of dialects undertaken in England, between 1948 and 1961. The selected participants were locally born, elderly folk, from rural communities, possessing little formal education. The results of this survey can be found in map form, published as ‘An Atlas of English Dialects’, (Oxford; Upton & Widdowson). ‘Among’/’Amongst’ were among 😉 the words surveyed and mapped.

    Among, was consistently used throughout the north and west of England. Amongst was used in Cornwall, London and the Home Counties and the West Midlands. Isolated pockets of amongst were also found on the Norfolk coast and in the centre of the country.

    To quote from this study: “Amongst is, as might be expected, a development of among. During the Middle English period in particular pairs of words developed which differed only in the presence or absence of final s, this often signalling some slight difference in meaning. Sometimes the word with s was a new creation based on an earlier s-less form, as with besides from beside. Sometimes both words in the pair were new creations based on old components, as with backward(s) and forward(s). Some words which acquired an s like this went further, developing a t after the added s, resulting in such creations as against, amidst, whilst, and the word we have here, amongst. The tendency towards any phonetic change which makes it easier for a speaker to pronounce a word is known technically as euphony.”

  • Danny

    Those who insist that Americans seem pretentious when using amongst and whilst sound pretty pretentious themselves.

    I noticed myself using it earlier today and that’s exactly how I came to find this article. While whilst is not as common in my experience, amongst is as common as among.

    I use both as do many other people I know. There is no rule or reason. I think it’s actually because of the confusion that we use both. We never learned when to use one and when to use the other.

    I know there are teachers and such that will say one is wrong and the other is right. They’re wrong. There is no proper usage of either so just get over it!!

    As for using got in place of gotten. . . Yikes!! 🙂

  • Tuesday’s Eyebrow

    Um. . . Americans still use amongst and whilst and all that, it’s just very rare, I for one prefer it over most cases. . . and I’m American, or United States-ian for people who want to get all up in arms over those of the US calling themselves Americans when technically canadians, mexicans, brazilians, peruvians, etc., etc., are american too.

  • venqax

    Just because some people use a word or phrase does not make it standard or formally acceptable. Amongst is used by Americans– Americas who speak some regional dialects that differr from Standard American English. It’s worth noting that some Americans use *afixin*– as in, “I’m afixin to come over there”– and *nuther*– “That is a whole nuther kettle o’ fish”– too. For formal SAE speech and writing, however, leave the ST on the porch when among the people as opposed to the folks.

    As for *whilst*, you have to be kidding. Have you ever really heard an American say whilst? If it exists at all it must be dialectical, but I’ve never even heard it in that context. Maybe rural or mountain southern, pre-WW2 or something? It’s being alive, even in the UK, speaks to the weakness of euphony in some cases, as it is about the most cacophonious word imaginable.

  • venqax

    or cacophonous ? Probably cacophonous is better because it sounds worse.

  • Sally

    I am late to this conversation, and I have skipped many of the comments above, so I don’t know if this has been mentioned, but it’s all about the glottal stop. The use of amongst before a vowel prevents that awkward ‘ng.’ English, in whatever part of the world it is used, is a rich and precise language. Let’s try to keep all of it.

  • venqax

    So among alligators is too glottal?
    Amongst stallions would certainly not be off-the-tongue-rolling.

    I don’t know of any rule for -st endings that relies on pronunciation of the followingfor justification; as doesn a/an, e.g.. ?? Some things are easier to say than others, but that just IS. We don’t say it’s all right to make listes or that he askes a question just because lists and asks are harder to say. I mean we’re not pre-literate Anglo-Saxons. It’s not like Feather-stone-shaw is hard to pronounce, it was just long and people didn’t have much leisure time.

  • John

    Well here is my two cents, and a chance to keep this thread going.
    I am aware of the disuse and antagonistic feeling/attitudes (generally) of my fellow Americans to using the “archaic” words in question. When speaking in everyday situations, I would not use amongst or whilst. However, I would use them when writing, as I learned a long time ago that formality and preciseness were more than okay when writing.

    Most teachers of English I’ve known were Lit majors who had a very broad, and highly poetic, education; and would be exactly the sort of people who would sigh and have a pleasant moment should any of their students properly use the -st forms in a homework assignment.

    In writing this I remember having been a pen pal of an English teacher. She related to me that she was going to ignore my first letter, but changed her mind when she realized I had correctly used the word reticent in my writing. She figured if I knew the word and could use it properly, how bad a person could I possibly be?

    Did I come across as pretentious to her by using five dollar words? I have no idea, but I would hazard a guess that she was pleasantly taken aback upon meeting someone to whom the English language was as important as she felt it was.

    That being said, I would aver that one must take into account one’s audience when speaking or writing, and not assume that just because you have an aversion to using a word that everyone else feels as you do. Thank you.

  • venqax

    @John: Consider that there is a substantial difference between using archaic words and using “five-dollar” (meaning sophisticated or erudite) words. Using amongst or whilst instead of among or while is not erudite, like using *quondam* or *erstwhile* instead of *former*, or using the word reticent. It is, rather, affected or dialectal (British). Neither is standard American usage. When it comes to poetry, of course, you can get away with almost anything. But we are not usually writing under poetic license. Writing to a friend with whatever idioms or in-jokes you share is part of friendship, but whether you get a pleasant moment from it or not, in American English there is no “proper” way to use the –st forms of among or while. Or betwixt or amidst or wouldst for that matter.

  • Tessa

    @venqax: I think ‘betwixt’ is almost totally used in poems. I mean, nobody uses it in speech, even formal ones.

  • venqax

    @Tessa: As should be amongst and whilst if you are American. That is my point. They are not used in SAE, just like betwixt isn’t. Or amidst or wouldst. ALL of those are archaic in General American, and there is no “proper” way to use an archaic word unless you are drawing attention to the word itself, or are purposely imitating archaic speech for some reason. I realize that this is not true for British English. I am only referencing Standard American English.

    (Case in point, my American English spell checker has red-lined amongst as I write this.)

  • Jimmy Grappone

    “Amongst” is very common amongst 1990s-era Jewish women in the Bronx. I’m basing this on Michael Myers’ famous SNL skit (sketch?) in which he/she hosts a local cable talk show titled “Coffee Talk” and Myers’ character encourages her guests and viewers to “Talk amongst yourselves.”

  • Big Earl

    I am an American from the South and I enjoy using “amongst” as well as “among”. I don’t, however, use the former in an attempt to sound more intelligent. I tend to use it only when it seems to sound better or roll off the tongue more easily than the latter. The same goes for “whilst” and “while”. One reason for this may be that I am a Christian and was raised reading the King James Version of the Holy Bible instead of a newer translation. I am also a fan of poetry and studied theater (theatre?) in college. All are contributing factors I’m sure. Anyway, y’uns be purdy, now!

  • Maeve

    Big Earl,
    I share your annoyance at pronouncements such as “Americans who say amongst are trying to sound intelligent.” American speakers who occasionally say amongst probably do it because it feels right at the time, and perhaps they grew up in speech communities in which amongst was usual.

    Recently I read this comment (in a reference I usually rely on for standard American pronunciation) about the pronunciation of the word advertisement: “ad-VUR-tiz-ment…now sounds stilted coming from an American.”

    I grew up around people who pronounced advertisement with the stress on the second syllable. It doesn’t sound stilted to me. The pronunciation with the stress on the third syllable, on the other hand, sounds mighty peculiar to my ear. Both pronunciations are acceptable in standard English. How they “sound” lies solely in the ear of the listener.

    I don’t attach much importance to opinions that object to acceptable standard usage on the grounds that it “sounds” stuck up or elitist or affected. Granted, amongst isn’t common in American speech and it would surely be edited out of copy submitted to an American publication, but it is not an error like “Him and his girlfriend left town.”

    Like all speakers, I have my personal irrational speech preferences, and they may slip through into my articles now and then, but my intention is to direct my objections to nonstandard usage. Some of the speakers who object to amongst and whilst as affected may think saying “The Smiths invited my wife and I to dinner” sounds classy.

    You go ahead and say amongst and whilst any old time the spirit moves you, you hear?

  • venqax

    Big Earl: Amongst is fairly common in Southern American dialects, it’s just not SAE. That is probably the reason you use it. When something occurs naturally in a dialectical context, it doesn’t sound pretentious at all. If anything, the opposite. There is nothing wrong with dialects, you just want to avoid them in formal settings where SAE is appropriate. SAE is your Sunday suit. Your local dialect is everyday clothes, jeans and a tee shirt, etc. I have to say though, I’ve never heard an American use “whilst”, even a southerner.

  • venqax

    That’s interesting Maeve. I always heard adverTISEment, just like adverTISE. I remember the first time I heard it pronounced with the second syllable stress and short I. I was taken aback and thought the person saying it (an older kid) was teasing. I have always wondered what the history of the pronunciation of that word is. Regardless of what I grew up hearing, I don’t know of any reason why it the stress should change to adVERTisment, with the stress and vowel changed from the root word. It always strikes me as a more natural British as opposed to American pronunciation. Of course stress does change with some word forms; compare/comparable, illustrate/illustrative, fatigue/indefatigable, maniac/maniacal.

  • Marcus

    As an American, here is how I differentiate the two: amongst is “surrounded by” while “among” means shared with.

    “Amongst the other proto-humans, Neanderthals finished near the head of the pack.”
    “We shared the pizza among ourselves”

  • Dean Walsh

    I have always treated Among as referring to the general group and amongst as referring to the individual, so for example:

    Among equals everybody is treated the same.

    But: He is amongst equals now, so he is treated the same as everyone else.

    If you started with ‘amongst equals’ you would want to then give some indication of what happens to a specific entitiy whilst among equals rather than just describing a general rule or truism.

    Seeing as I’ve use the word whilst, its worth mentioning that the rule for this seems to be exactly the same compared to ‘while’, and is equally uncertain. To me while is also general and just means ‘during a certain period’ (while x is true y is false), whereas the use of whilst requires an individual agent to be engaged in something (whilst doing x don’t do y).

  • Arthur Cigar

    I like using among for present tense and amongst for past tense.

  • Christopher

    “Amongst” is used thousands of times every day in the Catholic prayer, The Hail Mary.

    “Blessed art thou amongst women”.

    So it both sounds old, going with the “thou” but is also popular and very commonly used.

  • John

    I don’t think it has anything to do with British, Aussie, NZ, SA or American English. Neither is “amongst” an archaic form of “among”. In general, the words are completely interchangeable.

    However, in my usage of the two words, “amongst” indicates that a person/thing is in a group but not necessarily part of that group, whereas “among” indicates that they are in and part of the group.

    For instance, I would say “There is an England fan amongst the German fans”, meaning the England [football] fan was in a group of German fans but is not “part of the group”.
    On the other hand, I would say “The England fan is among other England fans”, meaning he is not only geographically in the crowd but is also part of the group.

    That would be my only distinction between the two words but it’s based more on what “looks” and “sounds” right, rather than any strict grammatical requirements.

  • Jeff

    Thank you, John! We obviously received similar educations. My high school grammar textbook was originally minted in the 1930s (I kid you not) and our 5th Form English teacher let us know in no uncertain terms that “generations of misuse is hardly a valid argument for redefining useful words”. Even the OED could take note. Here are some simple rules we were taught…
    “Among” means you are part of the group, “amongst” means you are surrounded by a group you are not part of. The examples – “A Man among men”, “He was amongst the trees”. “While” and “Whilst” … just as simple… “While” means “at the same time”, “whilst” means “alternatively”. These can’t be interchanged, since they are almost antonyms! “I juggled, while riding a unicycle” versus “I juggled, whilst Sue chose to ride a unicycle”. So you shouldn’t say, “While this seemed a good idea at the time”… you should say “Whilst this seemed a good idea at the time”. While I’m on a roll, how about “Whom”? Another misunderstood yet still valid word… “HE rode the bike.” “WHO rode the bike?” “The bike was ridden by HIM”. “The bike was ridden by WHOM?” We haven’t ever considered dropping “Him” in favour of “He”, or dropping “Them” and using “They” – so why did people start picking on”Whom” and decide it was somehow archaic?

  • ANT B

    Hi, although I’m not English or American I studied the English language. I use “among” when it’s among-in e.g. in a group of twenty there were four women. Whilst I use “amongst” when it’s amongst -from e.g I was the only one chosen amongst a group of twenty.
    “While” is used as in “in the meantime” or “at the same time” whilst “whilst ” is used as in “on the other hand” or “to the contrary” e.gs. I ate an Apple whilst the others preferred to eat a banana; and, I ate an apple while my friends finished the game.

  • Barb

    If you use “thee”, thou, “thy” and “art” then using amongst is the correct and proper grammar. If you dislike using “amongst” then you should not use “thou”, “thy”, “art” or “thee” in your prose else you are mixing modern and archaic grammars together. And that sounds like crap to mine ears.

    YMMV

  • Milo Edge

    To give fluidity to the sentence… “Amongst” and “Whilst” works better for me.
    Personally I hate the most of the slangs ’em, lil, bout. “Among” is very closely to be one of them … Soon will be like “i d k” Oh! Right, so it is now. Please “Americans” do not be sluggish.
    P.S.
    No offence but say that you are American people is very pretentious, You ARE United States OF America people, I know is a little bit strenuous but what about… North-American (maybe the Canadians disagree) or something like that. You people are pretty good on words invention.

  • Maeve

    @Milo Edge
    How about “Usonians”? http://www.dailywritingtips.com/canadians-mexicans-and-usonians/

  • Bill

    OMG y’all – this thread has been going on for almost 10 years! Quit arguing amongst yourselves and make all done. It sounds to me that one is free to use either and be considered acceptable…

    Ps Azadeh – 2007, the difference between climate and wheather (sic) is time-scale.

    Climate and climate change is how weather pattern trends are affected over a very long period of time (usually 100’s to 1000’s of years) and tend to be relatively stable (albeit changing), but local weather conditions in a given environment present themselves with much more variability over a shorter time frame (hours, days, weeks, etc.). Example of climate change is average ocean temperatures increasing a degree or two over the past 50 years. Example of weather change one can see swings in temperature of 50-60 degrees (F) in a given day, but is common for the time of year.

  • venqax

    I’m glad to see a thread go on for so long. In this case, though, I wonder why it has. The statement in the original article says it all: “For American speakers of English, the question is irrelevant. Americans say among.” For Americans (not speaking for others) that really is definitive and ends the matter. “Amongst” is not standard in American English. Regardless of how one “feels” about it, among and amongst are notinterchangeable, and the detailed explanations of the distinctions or nuances between the two are interesting but completely fantasized. If you are an American writing or speaking in a formal venue (not casual, dialectical, or regional speech) then don’t say amongst or you will make an impression you probably don’t want to make.

Leave a comment: