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Word Choice – Among Versus Between

BizWritingTip reader: “Please do a piece that explains when to use ‘between’ and ‘among.’ Increasingly, ‘between’ is used when ‘among’ should be used. I was taught that ‘between’ references two people and ‘among’ references three or more. In fact, even Sesame Street taught this.”

BizWritingTip response: Yes, Jean, you and Sesame Street are correct – for the most part. “Between” is used when referring to two persons or things. And “among” is used when referring to more than two.

Examples

Let’s divide the work between Joe and Susan.
The work should be divided among the three project managers.

However, as I keep saying, there seems to be an exception to every rule regarding English grammar.??In the previous example, the project managers are separate people. But, if you are referring to a group or to geographical locations, then don’t use “among.” You must use “between” even if there are more than two.

Example (correct)

Between the five of us, we obtained over 500 signatures. (The five of us are a united group.)
The purpose of the meeting was to encourage discussion between the participants. (The participants are a group.)
The train travelled between Oakville, Sarnia and Windsor. (These are geographical locations.)
Dividers were placed between the pages. (Again, pages are considered a group.)

Don’t you just love English grammar!