Among and Amongst are different

… or are they?

There is a good argument that they mean exactly the same thing. With this premise, one can ask: Is one inappropriate or affected, out of use or archaic? For instance, “use” and “utilize” seem to mean the same thing but the use of “utilize” goes along with affected speech. Just ask Coturnix, he hates “utilize” and I agree.

But I’m not sure if “amongst” is an affectation where it is usually used, as much as it is a dialectical difference. In South African English, “amongst” seems commoner than “among” (and “commoner” is more common than “more common” by the way). This does not mean amongst is unaffected among friends. That would depend on where one lives.

I assume that Among and Amongst have the same meaning. Feel free to disagree in the comments below. However, I can also contradict myself and argue that Amongst may be a viable non-affected choice in some cases. In particular, “among” feels better when we are among people (among friends, among colleageus, among the Hmong) whilst “amongst” is better if we are amongst something inanimate. “As Tarquin stood amongst the great trees of the dark forest…

What do you think?

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10 thoughts on “Among and Amongst are different

  1. My Webster’s Unabridged lists them:

    Among; amongst: then all the roots and definitions and stuff. So no distinction there.

    OTOH, it does make a distinction between use and utilize: We use iron ore to make steel, but we utilize our ore deposits to support our industry.

  2. I like “utilize”, and use it often (along with “use”, obviously). It’s a little more formal, and thus I find it helpful if writing any sort of formal dialogue, such as a speech or instructional text.

    On “Among” and “Amongst” I’m with ambassadorfromverdammt.

  3. I don’t know. I’m inclined towards using “among” when speaking of living beings, and “amongst” when speaking of inanimate objects. That’s how I’ve always seen it used, at least, and it just — hate to say it — “feels right” that way.

    @Greg Laden — I giggle-snorfed at “among the Hmong”. You have a wonderful way with words!

  4. I was always taught that it was among trees, rocks etc and amongst friends, family etc. so different from WMDKitty. Is this another difference depending on which side of the Atlantic you were educated? And I would never use utilize! Only utilise.

  5. I agree with your last paragraph, Greg.
    Amongst just sounds right with inanimate objects. “He hid amongst the tall grass.” “We sat amongst the scattered books.”

    I think among implies one of many, amongst implies surrounded by something.

  6. I like “utilize”, and use it often (along with “use”, obviously). It’s a little more formal, and thus I find it helpful if writing any sort of formal dialogue, such as a speech or instructional text.

    Ugh! “Utilize” (or “utilise”) is *not* synonymous with “use”. “Utilize” properly means “to make something useful in a context or for a purpose other than its intended one”. My company’s engineers misuse “utilize” in “instructional text” frequently, and while the word certainly *sounds* all professional and stuff (I mean, it has *three* syllables, not just one!), that doesn’t make it any less inappropriate in a sentence like “To caulk the joint, technicians should utilize a caulking gun.”

  7. Some may argue the march of the english language.

    I’m with you on use over utilise.

    I, however, deplore ‘addicting’ – there is a word for this already: addictive. As in, that computer game is completely addictive.

    Or perhaps even more detested is turning gift into a verb (see ‘gifted’, ‘gifting’). Appropriate verb forms here are, for example, give, gave, giving, etc.

    *tears out hair*

    *joins language luddites/purists support group*

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