Top Ten Spelling and Grammar Pet Peeves – Between/Among

This is another mistake that makes some people crazy, and one that’s so easy to make. The”rule” is that between always implies two; among always implies more than two.

Incorrect: There is little difference between department stores in America.

Correct: There is little difference among department stores in America .

Also correct: There is little difference between those two department stores.

The device to help you remember: you would never say, “Just among you and me…”; so why would you say, “between the three of us”?  Make sense??


    • Bob Levi on May 16, 2012 at 7:40 pm

    It’s a nice rule, but unfortunately, it’s a completely invented rule that contradicts actual usage both literary writers and educated (or not) speakers. James A. H. Murray put it well:

    ‘Between’ is still the only word available to express the relation of a thing to many surrounding things severally and individually, ‘among’ expressing a relation to them collectively and vaguely.

    Check your OED, which provides over a thousand years (going back to circa 975) of usage of between for more than two things, many of which are by the most celebrated writers of English. The “rule” you recite was first invented in the mid 19th century.

    Look at the evidence, and look at what reputable usage writers have written (Fowler, Garner, etc). This old superstition deserves to be staked and beheaded.

    1. Really, Bob, aren’t all rules “completely invented”? I’m not sure what your point is there and I don’t appreciate the poorly veiled, insulting suggestions that I am uneducated and irreputable. In any case, I have not positioned myself as a professor teaching grammar to university scholars. I am simply trying to help everyday people improve their communication skills.

      The Oxford is not the end-all be-all of writing references and might even be considered by some as outdated in its thousand-year-old approach to this particular rule. I reject your suggestion that because “my” rule is less than 200 years old it is invalid. Our language continues to evolve and adapt (or do you still say that you’re going down to Ye Olde Towne Shoppe??)

      Like I said, I’m really just trying to help everyday people improve their skills. The venom with which you wrote your comment as well as the use of words like “staked” and “beheaded” are really unnecessary, but thanks for your feedback! Have a great week!! :o)

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