The words among and amongst can cause a bit of confusion in people’s writing because not many of us are sure when to use which one. Are they just variations of the same word? Do they have different meanings? Do they have different functions within a sentence?
In today’s post, I want to address all of these questions so that you’ll never have to second-guess yourself while writing either of these words again. So what is the difference between among vs. amongst?
The Difference Between Among and Amongst
Among and amongst are both prepositions, meaning in the midst of, surrounded by, in the company of, or in association with. For example,
- A Northeasterner amongst Southerners.
- I found myself among the wealthy.
- There was a group or tourists amongst my group in the museum.
- Don’t worry; you’re among friends!
- They are always fighting amongst themselves.
So you’re now probably asking yourself, “Okay, when do I know which one to use?”
The answer to this is that there is no demonstrable difference of sense or function between the two words. This means they can both be used interchangeably; it really is a matter of style for when you choose to use one over the other.
Even though it is a matter of style, it is still important to keep your audience in mind when picking which word to use. For example, if you are writing a sophisticated novel, using amongst might be appropriate because it adds a sense of unique dialogue or conversation. But, if you are writing for everyday consumption in a newspaper or a similar outlet, among is definitely the right choice for you.
Some grammar books state that it is more common to use amongst before a word starting with a vowel. For example,
- Amongst other things, we will finish the house.
This view, although still favored by some, is not supported by current usage trends.
Which is More Common?
Out of the two words, among is much more commonly used in modern English, being used at a ratio of 10:1 by some estimates. In British English, amongst is used somewhat more frequently than in American English, but even in Great Britain among is the favored variant.
History of Among and Amongst
Of these two words, among is the earlier of the pair, first appearing during the Old English period. It comes from the antecedent on gemang, which yielded onmang before the year 1100. The variant amongst didn’t appear for another 500 years or so until the 16th century. It is believed that it emerged by form-association with superlatives among(e)st.
So, even though amongst sounds like it would be the older of these two words, it is actually quite a bit younger than its older brother among.
Amongst vs. among are both prepositions, meaning in the company of or surrounded by.
They can be used interchangeably, so choosing one over the other depends on writing style.
Among is the more common variant in American and British English.