Blog Grammar Rules Among vs. Amongst: How Should You Use Them in Your Writing?

Among vs. Amongst: How Should You Use Them in Your Writing?

Krystal N. Craiker

Krystal N. Craiker

Author and Freelance Writer

Published Oct 27, 2021

Among versus amongst title

English is full of tricky words that look and sound similar, and it can be hard to tell the difference.

Today we’re taking a look at among and amongst to figure out what they mean, where they come from, and which one you should use in your writing.

Contents:
  1. What’s the Difference Between Among and Amongst?
  2. What Do Among and Amongst Mean?
  3. Should I Use Among or Amongst in a Sentence?
  4. Should I Use Among, Amongst, or Between?
  5. Examples of Among and Amongst in Sentences
  6. Why Are Among and Amongst Interchangeable?

What’s the Difference Between Among and Amongst?

Among and amongst look so similar, you might be wondering what the difference is between these two words. The answer? Nothing.

That’s right. Among and amongst have identical meanings. They’re not just synonyms with similar meanings.

They are completely interchangeable. Other than their spelling and which English speakers prefer which, there is no difference.

Among and amongst are equal

Among is more commonly used in both American and British English, but amongst is more accepted in British English.

However, both words are used all over the English-speaking world. In America, amongst is often considered fancier, if not pretentious. But grammatically, both are correct.

What Do Among and Amongst Mean?

The definition of among and amongst

Among and amongst have several related but different meanings. We’ll take a look at a few dictionary definitions along with an example of each.

Among and amongst can mean in the midst of or surrounded by, in the company of. For example: “He spent his life among friends.”

These words can also mean by the majority or whole of. An example would be: “Lil Nas X is popular among teenagers.”

Another definition is in the group or class of. An example is the old adage: “A lion amongst men.”

Among and amongst sometimes mean each with the other or mutually. You might say: “The queen left the Parliament to settle it amongst themselves.”

Likewise, they can also be used to talk about dividing up shares of something. For example: “The pirates divided the booty among themselves.”

Different dictionaries break down among and amongst into different and more specific definitions, but those listed above cover the basic meanings of these two words.

What Type of Words Are Among and Amongst?

Now that we know what these two interchangeable words mean, you might be wondering what kind of word they are. This is also known as the part of speech of a word.

Knowing the part of speech of a word can help you know exactly how to use it.

What is a preposition

Among and amongst are prepositions. A preposition is a type of function word. A function word acts on another word or phrase in a certain way, but is not a noun, pronoun, verb, adjective, or adverb. Instead, prepositions usually precede a noun or noun phrase.

In other words, function words modify phrases, and prepositions usually show direction, location, time, or another relationship between two words or phrases.

You can see from the definitions in the previous section that both among and amongst usually show a location or an abstract relationship between two nouns or pronouns.

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Should I Use Among or Amongst in a Sentence?

If these two words have exactly the same meaning, how do you know whether to use among or amongst in your writing?

From a strictly prescriptive grammar point-of-view, it doesn’t matter. However, grammar is more than just prescriptive rules. Connotation, audience, tone, and other factors come into play.

You’ll want to use among in most instances. Any sort of conversational or informal writing should feature among as opposed to its fancier counterpart.

When to use among and amongst

To determine whether or not you should use amongst, you should first determine what type of writing you’re doing. If you’re doing formal or academic writing, it’s probably acceptable.

Amongst is also common in poetry, and if you want to write flowery prose. Be careful that you don’t overuse it to avoid purple prose.

If you’re writing fiction, historical or historically inspired characters might use amongst in dialogue.

Then consider your audience. Even in some formal settings, using amongst will come across as pretentious.

This is especially true in American English. Consider how formal your audience expects you to be. Also consider where your readers are from.

Still not sure which to use? Then use among because it’s acceptable in all situations.

Should I Use Among, Amongst, or Between?

Another common question is whether to use among, amongst, or between when writing. Between has very similar definitions to among or amongst.

You might have learned that between is for two nouns and among or amongst is for three or more. This isn’t strictly the case.

While it’s true that between should usually be used to show the relationship between two nouns or pronouns, it can also be used with three or more.

Should you use among or between?

Among and amongst are typically used to show the relationship between abstract things, collective groups of things, people, or places, or anything that isn’t precise.

Between is used to differentiate between specific nouns or pronouns. When we want to show a relationship between things that are unique and individual, we use between.

Here are some examples:

  • She danced amongst the royals and nobility.
  • We’ll divide the work among the three of us.
  • We’ll divide the work between Jane, John, and myself.

Determining which preposition to use can be tricky. A strong editing software like ProWritingAid can let you know if your preposition usage is correct.

Just run the Grammar Report to check your prepositions.

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Examples of Among and Amongst in Sentences

Let’s take a look at a few more examples of among and amongst in sentences.

  • Stealing from another pirate on your crew was punishable by death, showing that there is honor amongst thieves.
  • Jane Goodall lived among chimpanzees for many years.
  • Due to lack of access to nutritious food and affordable healthcare, diabetes mellitus is prevalent among indigent populations.
  • The duchess stood out like a diamond amongst river pebbles.
  • Mom divided the Halloween candy among the three of us.
  • Our analytics show that this program is performing well among the 30–45 age group.
  • He was a god among men.

Why Are Among and Amongst Interchangeable?

If you’re a language nerd like us, get ready to learn some interesting linguistic history.

If you’re not, all you need to know is that among and amongst both mean the same thing, and no one really knows why. It's up to you which you use, but among is usually your best bet as it is more common in modern speech.

So, where did among and amongst come from? Why are there two words with the same meaning?

You might think that amongst is the older of the two words. It sounds more archaic, like it belongs with old words like wouldst. But among is actually the older of the two words!

Among first appeared in Old English and dates back to around 1000 AD.

Amongst didn’t show up for centuries, with sources varying between 200 and 400 years later. Amongst is from Middle English.

Why did they change a perfectly good word by adding a couple of letters? Well, no one knows exactly.

However, during the time when Middle English was spoken, letters were often added to words to change the sounds.

Usually this was to create adverbs, but amongst is a preposition just like its parent word, among.

Amongst is an example of a word with an excrescent. An excrescent is a phonetic sound that is in a word for no real, understandable reason.

If the excrescent changes the word it’s attached to, the change is very slight.

What is an excrescent

What are some other examples of -st excrescents? Here are a few.

  • amidst
  • whilst
  • midst

In the first two, the -st doesn’t change the meaning at all, just like amongst. Some people give a slightly different connotation to midst as opposed to its parent word, mid.

An example of excrescents

Now you know everything there is to know about the subtle differences between among and amongst.

Remember, if you get confused, just use among, but you can use either word and still be grammatically correct.


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Krystal N. Craiker

Krystal N. Craiker

Author and Freelance Writer

Krystal N. Craiker is an author and freelance writer. She is the author of the Scholars of Elandria fantasy series. When she isn't writing, you can find her playing board games and volunteering. Krystal lives in Texas with her husband and two adorable dogs. Visit her website or follow her on Instagram.

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