Summary: Among and amongst are interchangeable terms. Americans always use among, while in the UK both among and amongst are used.
Although we’ve covered the difference between Among/Amongst in another post on Daily Writing Tips (spoiler alert: there isn’t one), you might still be wondering which word would work best in a particular context.
One of our readers, Tania Botha, asked:
“When (if ever) must one use “amongst” – I systematically use “among” in my own writing and change it when editing other people’s texts, because “amongst” seems so old-fashioned. Is there a rule?”
You can use among and amongst interchangeably, but as Tania pointed out, among is more common in modern writing.
If you’re American, you may find that you pretty much never hear “amongst” – in the UK, where I live, it’s a little more common. (I often heard it in school from teachers instructing us to “talk amongst yourselves” while they prepared the next bit of the lesson).
To answer Tania’s question: there’s no situation where you must use the word “amongst”, but there are contexts in which it might make sense to use it.
If you’re writing a medieval fantasy story, or a piece of historical fiction, “amongst” could fit well with your tone. For instance:
- As Tarquin stood amongst the great trees of the ancient forest…
- In the depths of the castle, amongst the detritus of the feast…
But if you’re writing a news or feature article, or a piece of modern fiction, “among” is probably a better fit. For instance:
- “Australia’s cheap, dirty petrol ranks among the worst of the OECD nations” (The Guardian)
- “Six hotels in Llandudno have been named among the best in the UK.” (BBC News)
So yes, amongst can seem old-fashioned – but it’s still grammatically correct as an alternative to among.
It’s up to you to select which you prefer: if you’re British or Canadian, “amongst” is unlikely to stand out as especially unusual; if you’re American, it’s almost certainly going to seem oddly old-fashioned unless you’re using it in an appropriate context.
Examples of “Amongst” and “Among” in Literature
In 19th century literature, there are plenty of examples of the use of the word “amongst” – both from British writers and American writers.
Here are a few examples from Jane Eyre, by the English writer Charlotte Bronte. “Amongst” appears quite frequently:
- “I heard a wild wind rushing amongst”
- “Flowers peeped out amongst the leaves; snow-drops, crocuses, purple auriculas, and golden-eyed pansies.”
- “I lingered till the sun went down amongst the trees, and sank crimson and clear behind them.”
But “among” is also used fairly often:
- “She peered at me over her spectacles, and then she opened a drawer and fumbled among its contents for a long time, so long that my hopes began to falter.”
- “The company all stared at me as I passed straight among”
- “I trode on an edging of turf that the crackle of the pebbly gravel might not betray me: he was standing among the beds at a yard or two distant from where I had to pass; the moth apparently engaged him.”
American writers used “amongst”, too. In Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain uses it frequently:
- “Pretty soon I heard a twig snap down in the dark amongst the trees—something was a stirring.”
- “Tom poked about amongst the passages, and pretty soon ducked under a wall where you wouldn’t a noticed that there was a hole.”
- “My heart jumped up amongst my lungs.”
Again, you’ll also find “among” being used (though surprisingly infrequently – there are only two instances of it in the whole novel, compared with 37 of “amongst):
- “I struck for the light, but as soon as he turned the corner I went back and got into my skiff and bailed her out, and then pulled up shore in the easy water about six hundred yards, and tucked myself in among some woodboats; for I couldn’t rest easy till I could see the ferryboat start.”
- “Then I slipped down to the ground and crawled in among the trees, and, sure enough, there was Tom Sawyer waiting for me.”
Ultimately, then, it’s entirely up to you whether you use “among” or “amongst”. If, like Tania, you’re editing someone else’s work, you might want to draw their attention to the fact that both words mean exactly the same thing – but that “amongst” can sound old-fashioned (particularly to American readers).
Otherwise – choose whichever word best suits your context and, perhaps, the rhythm and cadence of your sentence.
Among vs Amongst Quiz
For each of the following sentences and contexts, choose whether “among” or “amongst” would be a better fit.
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Original post: Among vs. Amongst
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