Summary: Among and amongst are interchangeable terms. Among is more common in modern writing. Americans tend to always use among, while in the UK both among and amongst are used.
Although we’ve covered the difference between Among/Amongst in another post on Daily Writing Tips (spoiler alert: there isn’t one), you might still be wondering which word would work best in a particular context.
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?”
If you’re American, you may find that you pretty much never hear “amongst” – in the UK, where I live, it’s a little more common. (I often heard it in school from teachers instructing us to “talk amongst yourselves” while they prepared the next bit of the lesson).
To answer Tania’s question: there’s no situation where you must use the word “amongst”, but there are contexts in which it might make sense to use it.
If you’re writing a medieval fantasy story, or a piece of historical fiction, “amongst” could fit well with your tone. For instance:
- As Tarquin stood amongst the great trees of the ancient forest…
- In the depths of the castle, amongst the detritus of the feast…
But if you’re writing a news or feature article, or a piece of modern fiction, “among” is probably a better fit. For instance:
- “Australia’s cheap, dirty petrol ranks among the worst of the OECD nations” (The Guardian)
- “Six hotels in Llandudno have been named among the best in the UK.” (BBC News)
So yes, amongst can seem old-fashioned – but it’s still grammatically correct as an alternative to among.
It’s up to you to select which you prefer: if you’re British or Canadian, “amongst” is unlikely to stand out as especially unusual; if you’re American, it’s almost certainly going to seem oddly old-fashioned unless you’re using it in an appropriate context.
Examples of “Amongst” and “Among” in Literature
In 19th century literature, there are plenty of examples of the use of the word “amongst” – both from British writers and American writers.
Here are a few examples from Jane Eyre, by the English writer Charlotte Bronte. “Amongst” appears quite frequently:
- “I heard a wild wind rushing amongst”
- “Flowers peeped out amongst the leaves; snow-drops, crocuses, purple auriculas, and golden-eyed pansies.”
- “I lingered till the sun went down amongst the trees, and sank crimson and clear behind them.”
But “among” is also used fairly often:
- “She peered at me over her spectacles, and then she opened a drawer and fumbled among its contents for a long time, so long that my hopes began to falter.”
- “The company all stared at me as I passed straight among”
- “I trode on an edging of turf that the crackle of the pebbly gravel might not betray me: he was standing among the beds at a yard or two distant from where I had to pass; the moth apparently engaged him.”
American writers used “amongst”, too. In Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain uses it frequently:
- “Pretty soon I heard a twig snap down in the dark amongst the trees—something was a stirring.”
- “Tom poked about amongst the passages, and pretty soon ducked under a wall where you wouldn’t a noticed that there was a hole.”
- “My heart jumped up amongst my lungs.”
Again, you’ll also find “among” being used (though surprisingly infrequently – there are only two instances of it in the whole novel, compared with 37 of “amongst):
- “I struck for the light, but as soon as he turned the corner I went back and got into my skiff and bailed her out, and then pulled up shore in the easy water about six hundred yards, and tucked myself in among some woodboats; for I couldn’t rest easy till I could see the ferryboat start.”
- “Then I slipped down to the ground and crawled in among the trees, and, sure enough, there was Tom Sawyer waiting for me.”
Ultimately, then, it’s entirely up to you whether you use “among” or “amongst”. If, like Tania, you’re editing someone else’s work, you might want to draw their attention to the fact that both words mean exactly the same thing – but that “amongst” can sound old-fashioned (particularly to American readers).
Otherwise – choose whichever word best suits your context and, perhaps, the rhythm and cadence of your sentence.
Among vs Amongst Quiz
For each of the following sentences and contexts, choose whether “among” or “amongst” would be a better fit.
65 thoughts on “Among vs. Amongst”
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.
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! 😉
Use whatever you want . What’s the big deal when both are grammatically correct .
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.
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.
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” 🙂
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?
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
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.
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”.
i fell among is with and willing. amongst is with in, but not with; standing with or next to., waiting for something else
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! 🙂
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.
Which one is better?
I rather enjoy the cultural diversity I live amongst.
I rather enjoy the cultural diversity I live among.
Marci, maybe neither. Isn’t that ending a sentence with a preposition?
I rather enjoy hte cultural diversity amongst which I live.
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.
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.
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.
‘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?
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).
Actually, Henrik, in the midst of things, I think you nailed it.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
@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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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
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.
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.
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. 🙂
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.
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 🙂
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.
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.
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.
It’s amusing: I only made it about half-way through these comments before “among” and “amongst” BOTH stopped looking like words.
“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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.