Are you among friends or amongst friends? Both words indicate that you’re in a safe place with your best buds. But that doesn’t mean among and amongst are interchangeable — and depending on your writing style and audience, you’re better off choosing one over the other.
Although both among and amongst are acceptable prepositions in modern English that mean “in the middle of” or “in a group,” among is the preferable word choice. It first appeared in Old English in the 12th century as onmang (meaning “in”). Today, among is much more popular than its sound-alike amongst. If you’re trying to decide between among and amongst, you’re probably looking for among.
Use the word among to describe the group one is in. For example, if you’re “among colleagues,” you’re in a group of colleagues. Additional examples include:
- We are among friends here.
- Can we keep this among ourselves?
- I listened among the crowd as the politician finished his speech.
- Discuss the new project among yourselves.
- The vase sat on a shelf among a variety of pictures.
Many people think that amongst is actually the older word of the two. The mistake is understandable — after all, amongst seems more archaic than among. But actually, amongst appeared in English more than a century after among, from the Middle English word amonges.
Adding the ending of amongst came from an obsolete grammar rule in which adverb forms of words ended in -st (like against or whilst). The grammar rule faded with use, but amongst remained in the English language. Amongst is more popular in British English than American English, but even so, among is the more popular choice in British English too.
While among and amongst share a definition, you’ll find that using amongst adds a formal tone that you may or may not want in your sentence. For example:
- We are amongst friends here.
- Can we keep this amongst ourselves?
- I listened amongst the crowd as the politician finished his speech.
- Discuss the new project amongst yourselves.
- The vase sat on a shelf amongst a variety of pictures.
Now that you’ve got among and amongst settled, what about between? There’s a key difference between among and between that keeps them from being synonyms:
- among - in the middle of many things
- between - in the middle of two things
If you’re sitting among friends, there are friends all around you. But if you’re sitting between friends, there’s one friend on your left side and one friend on your right side.
Another difference lies between the words among and amid. While their definitions are similar, their grammatical functions differ slightly:
- among - used with countable nouns (such as friends or students)
- amid - used with uncountable nouns (such as smoke or commotion)
The same difference occurs with amongst and amidst, both of which follow the same archaic adverb rule. Use amongst in a formal setting with countable nouns, and use amidst in a formal setting with uncountable nouns.