Two words, with two letters' difference: "among" and "amongst." But is there really a difference between them in meaning and usage?
The short answer is, no. Both "among" and "amongst" are prepositions used to describe something in the midst of, in the company of, surrounded by, or in association with. For example, “I know that contract is somewhere among this mess.” Or “Mary had one suitor in mind amongst the many clamoring for her attention.”
Does It Matter?
You can use "among" and "amongst" interchangeably, so why do both exist? The big difference is their age. "Among" comes from the Old English word "ongemang," which combines the words for "in" and "mingling." "Amongst," despite its dated sound to modern American ears, is actually a newer term popularized as Middle English took over. "Amongst" appeared with other words such as "against."
Generally speaking, it’s a matter of preference, but one particular use case for "amongst" would be in writing historical fiction. Given the word’s popularity during the Middle Ages, it may feel more at home when spoken by a character using other traditional lingo.
An International Audience
"Amongst" is more popular in England, Canada, and Australia. While Americans will understand "amongst," it sounds out of place and old-fashioned within the American dialect. "Among" is the preferred choice when writing for an American audience, or for daily content such as news articles, reports, or business communication.
What About "Between"?
While there may not be much of a difference with "among" and "amongst," there is a contrast compared to fellow preposition "between." "Among" and "amongst" describe a collective grouping, such as: “The roses bloomed brightly among(st) a sea of green.”
You should use "between" only when highlighting a one-to-one relationship, as in: “The newspaper was wedged between the two passengers on the train.”