Two words, with two letters difference: among and amongst. But is there really a difference between them?
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.”
You can use among and amongst interchangeably, but why do the two of them exist? Really, the only difference is their age. Among is from Old English – in fact, the word has appeared in some of the oldest English manuscripts around. Meanwhile amongst, despite its semi-dated sound to modern ears, is actually a newer term popularized with the rise of Middle English. Among has since gained a stronger foothold globally in English-speaking nations, particularly in the U.S.
Now, you still might be wondering – are there any situations where amongst is preferable to among? Generally speaking, it’s really a matter of preference which word you use. One particular use case for amongst would be 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 more traditional lingo.
Another possible preferential use case for amongst would be writing for an international audience. Amongst is more popular in England, Canada and Australia. While it’s known in the U.S., it sounds much more foreign and old-fashioned. That being said, even in the nations where it’s used more frequently, people are just as, if not more, accustomed to seeing among.
Among is the preferred choice when writing for an American audience, or for daily content such as news articles, reports or business communication.
While there may not be a difference between among and amongst, other than preference and contemporary tastes, there is an appropriate time to use one of these words over between. Among and amongst describe a collective grouping, or set of relationships, as in: “The roses bloomed brightly among a sea of green.” You should only use between when highlighting a one-to-one relationship, as in: “The newspaper was wedged between the two passengers on the train.”
The good news for among and amongst is you no longer have to fret about which word to choose. Simply pick the one that flows best with your sentence rhythm and overall tone of your writing piece.