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Ask a Teacher: Between and Among

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Prepositions can be tricky in any language, including English. And English has a lot of them. But, do not worry! Ask a Teacher is here to make things easier. Today's question comes from Edgar of Venezuela. Here it is:

Question:

I would like to know the difference between "among" and "between." Thanks! – Edgar, Venezuela

Answer:

Hello Edgar, that is an excellent question.

This week, I had a choice between this question and many others. But I chose this one.

Did you see how I used "between"?

I see that you also used the word correctly when you asked about the "difference between" the words. Good job!

"Between" and "among" are two prepositions that generally mean "in the middle of two or more things." But how do we know which to use?

Many English learners are taught that we use "between" for two things and "among" for three or more.

It is true that we usually use "between" to talk about things that are clearly separate, as you and I both did. However, the use of "between" is not limited by the number of things.

We use "among" to talk about things within a group. They are not clearly separate. "Among" means "in or through a group of people or things."

Here are some sentences to compare:

He is choosing between Spanish, French and Italian.

He is choosing among the languages.

The word "between" named the languages while "among" spoke about them as part of a group. Now compare these:

A liger is a hybrid between a lion and a tiger.

Ligers are among the many animal hybrids in the world.

The word "between" named the animals, while "among" spoke of them as being part of a group.

Take Note

A few things to note:

In everyday spoken English, Americans usually do not use the word "among" as it sounds a little formal. Instead, we might use "between" or a different preposition.

The word "between" is also used to talk about time, space and other measurements, such as in "Please arrive between the hours of 10am and 1pm" and "There was a meter of space between my bike and the cars."

And that's Ask a Teacher.

I'm Alice Bryant.

Do you have a question for Ask a Teacher? Write to us in the comments area. And be sure to list your country.

Words in This Story

prepositionn. a word or group of words that is used with a noun, pronoun, or noun phrase to show direction, location, or time, or to introduce an object

hybridn. an animal or plant that is produced from two animals or plants of different kinds

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