Among vs. Amongst

By Ali Hale

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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.

  • 1. Once [among/amongst] the top companies in America, Widgets Inc is now facing bankruptcy.

    among
    amongst
  • 2. These tips should help your website rank [among/amongst] the best in the world.

    amongst
    among

  • 3. Johannes huddled [among/amongst] the fallen bodies, praying that he wouldn’t be seen.

    among
    amongst
  • 4. Erica swore. Surely her car keys had to be somewhere [among/amongst] all the clutter on the kitchen counter.

    among
    amongst

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65 Responses to “Among vs. Amongst”

  • Sarah May

    Dear Drummer PF,

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

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

  • Jason Marcel

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

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

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

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

    I believe a good writer should always simplify.

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

  • Ravonseed

    Prepositions to have fun with:

    ‘Among’ ‘Amongst’ ‘Amid’ ‘Amidst’

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

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

  • Nana

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

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

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

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

  • Nana

    @Ravenseed

    Huh?

    😉

  • Ivan

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

    “I believe a good writer should always simplify.”

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

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

  • Veejay

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

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

    Here it is suggestive of belonging and not just presence.

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

  • Ben

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

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

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

  • Jeff

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

  • Dan

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

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

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

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

    Then write, accordingly.

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

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

    “With each intended use, let nature decide.”

  • Jeff

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

  • Kark

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

  • Martin

    I will stick with amongst, not sure if it was Ms McDonald my 6th grade English teacher that beat that into me, whatever 🙂 Maybe the time I grew up in the UK?

    Why do I remember my English teacher’s name from the 6th grade? No idea, maybe I had a crush on her 😉

  • Petra

    Sorry, but your proposal just doesn’t align with practice (in BE-speaker areas). Among is slightly more common, but amongst is commonly used in all registers. In your examples, amongst would sound just as natural in those prosaic examples and among in the literary ones. In fact, I hear people even in very informal, quotidian situations using amongst very frequently and naturally. Very often what seems to guide the preference is prosody: for example, the potential jangle in “This painting is amongst his best” may (subconsciously) intervene, so that “among” is what is said; while something like “That book is amongst my very favourites” is perfectly natural and common to hear.

  • venqax

    I can’t speak for BE, but in SAE I’d be less generous, I guess, and go so far as to say that “among” is preferred in all contexts. “Amongst” is dialectical in parts of the country, but I wouldn’t consider it standard. Likewise whilst (never in American), alongst, admidst, betwixt, etc.

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