Among vs Amongst: Unraveling the Subtle Differences

Marcus Froland

As you dive deeper into the fascinating world of English language nuances, you may find yourself wondering about the difference between “among” and “amongst.” While both of these prepositions are used to express the idea of being “in the midst of” or “surrounded by,” their usage and popularity vary, particularly when it comes to American vs British English. In this article, we’ll explore the origins of these two words, discuss their frequency in modern writing, and provide some helpful grammar tips to ensure your writing is always top-notch.

Understanding the Basics: Definitions and Origins

The prepositions ‘among’ and ‘amongst’ hold an intriguing place in the history of the English language. While they both convey the sense of being “in the midst of” or “surrounded by,” their origins are separated by specific linguistic periods – Old English and Middle English respectively. To fully grasp the nuances of these words, it is vital to understand their etymological roots and the events that shaped their development.

The Historical Root of ‘Among’ in Old English

The origin of the preposition ‘among’ can be traced back to the Old English period, around 1000 CE. It was during this time that the term began to be used for illustrating collective relationships and to express the idea of being in the middle of something. This early usage of ‘among’ laid the foundation for what would become one of the most essential prepositions in the English language.

“Among” – A term with roots in Old English, denoting the idea of being in the middle of something or expressing collective relationships.

The Emergence of ‘Amongst’ in Middle English

As the English language evolved from Old English to Middle English, around 1200 CE, new linguistic patterns emerged, leading to the development of ‘amongst.’ This change was part of a broader trend in which extra sounds were added to some words, creating alternative adverb forms. Notable examples of this phenomenon include the transformation from “once” to “always” and the emergence of “unawares.”

This linguistic shift played a significant role in shaping the etymology of ‘amongst,’ allowing it to stand alongside other similar words that underwent the same evolution.

“Amongst” – A preposition that originated in Middle English, stemming from the addition of extra sounds to certain words.

Comparative Usage in Modern English

In contemporary English, the preference for using “among” and “amongst” varies according to regional language habits and individual writing style. While both prepositions coexist in modern usage without causing significant confusion, it is essential to examine their prevalence and acceptability in different contexts.

According to the Oxford English Corpus, “among” appears over 300,000 times in American English, compared to only 10,000 mentions of “amongst.” This significant disparity highlights the strong preference for “among” in the United States. However, in British English, the difference is less pronounced, although “among” still tends to be more frequently used than “amongst.”

Regardless of regional language preferences, both “among” and “amongst” are grammatically correct prepositions and can be interchangeable, depending on the writer’s stylistic choice.

The following list summarizes the key points to consider when choosing between “among” and “amongst” in contemporary English:

  1. American English strongly favors the use of “among.”
  2. British English shows a lesser difference but still generally prefers “among” over “amongst.”
  3. Context and individual writing style can play a significant role in determining which preposition to use.

The usage of “among” and “amongst” in modern English is primarily dictated by regional preferences and individual writing style. As a writer, it is crucial to be aware of these variations to maintain consistency in your work and ensure effective communication with your audience.

Literary Examples: ‘Among’ and ‘Amongst’ in Classic Texts

Both among and amongst have enjoyed widespread usage in various contexts across classical English writing. Let’s explore some literary examples that demonstrate the unique character and effect that these prepositions bring to the texts they appear in.

‘Among’ Bringing Characters Together in Literature

The preposition among is often utilized in classic literature to convey a sense of connection or unity between characters. This is evident in works by celebrated authors such as Charles Dickens, Arthur C. Clarke, Nicole Krauss, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Employing among in these instances reveals its versatility in diverse narrative settings – be it forging relationships, exposing conflicts, or emphasizing key character interactions.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness … we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”
– Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

‘Amongst’: Evoking Nostalgia and Formality in Writing

On the other hand, amongst adds a distinct sense of nostalgia and formality to literary texts. This is evident in the writings of notable authors such as J.K. Rowling, Oscar Wilde, Douglas Adams, and Sarah J. Maas. Although the usage of amongst may sometimes be perceived as antiquated, it undeniably lends a particular tone and texture to the narrative, enhancing the overall reading experience.

“To the untrained eye, there was nothing to choose between Tom and Bert. They were both big and ugly, and they were both dressed in long black cloaks, fastened around their necks with heavy silver chains. Indeed, they looked very much like the gargoyles on the roof of St. Jerome’s, the village church. It was possible, however, to tell the brothers apart, not by their faces but by their voices: Bert, the elder by fifteen minutes, had a voice as smooth and cold as ice; Tom’s was like thick treacle, warm and sticky, with a tendency to go very slowly around the corners.”
– Douglas Adams, Tom Amongst the Pigeons

In summary, both among and amongst play critical roles in the world of literature. Their unique characteristics can enhance the stories and character interactions, adding depth and nuance to the overall reading experience. When choosing which preposition to use in your own writing, consider the tone, style, and audience you are trying to engage with, and embrace the versatility that these time-honored literary prepositions afford.

‘Among’ vs ‘Amongst’: Frequency and Preference in American and British English

When it comes to the among vs amongst frequency, we see a marked difference between American English and British English. Though both variants of English language favor the use of ‘among,’ the preference for ‘amongst’ varies based on the regional context.

In American English, the word ‘among’ is prominently favored over its counterpart ‘amongst.’ This dominance can be observed across all forms of writing, from casual communication to academic texts. In comparison, British English displays a more balanced usage pattern for these two prepositions, albeit with a proclivity for ‘among.’

According to the Oxford English Corpus data, ‘among’ appears in American English more than 300,000 times, while ‘amongst’ is mentioned only about 10,000 times.

On the other hand, this disparity is less significant in British English, but ‘among’ still emerges as the preferred choice in most instances. This preference can also be seen in the style guides of major British publications, which often recommend using ‘among’ rather than ‘amongst.’

  1. American English: Strong preference for ‘among.’
  2. British English: Preference for ‘among,’ but with a higher frequency of ‘amongst.’

Overall, this demonstrates the extent to which language preference plays a role in the ‘among’ vs ‘amongst’ debate, emphasizing the importance of understanding these nuances depending on your target audience and writing context. By being mindful of these regional preferences, you can better tailor your writing to resonate with your readers, ensuring clarity and effective communication.

Style and Context: When to Use Each Variation

Deciding between “among” and “amongst” often comes down to the stylistic preference rather than following a rigid grammatical rule. Your choice should reflect your intended tone and audience, taking into account factors such as regional language preferences and the level of formality.

  1. For a contemporary and American-English-aligned tone, “among” is typically the better choice. It is more prevalent in modern American English and often sounds more natural to native speakers from the United States.
  2. For a touch of formality or British flavor, “amongst” might be the preferred option. Although not as commonly used as “among,” it can lend a sense of elegance or old-world charm to your writing.

It’s worth noting that, historically, some grammar guides recommended using “amongst” before a vowel to avoid awkward pronunciation. However, this advice is not strictly followed in contemporary language usage. Feel free to choose the variant that best suits your style and intended tone.

“She walked among the crowds, blending in seamlessly.”

“He found solace amongst the ancient tombs, feeling a connection to a time long past.”

In practical terms, the choice between “among” and “amongst” does not typically create confusion or ambiguities, so you can focus on other aspects of your writing, such as maintaining clarity and coherence. But as you work on your preposition style guide, it’s always helpful to consider the context in grammar and adjust your word choice accordingly.

Whether you choose “among” or “amongst” ultimately comes down to your personal writing style and the specific context in which the word is used. By considering factors such as regional language preferences and formality, you can make an informed decision between these two interchangeable prepositions.

Final Thoughts: Choosing Between ‘Among’ and ‘Amongst’ in Your Writing

When it comes to selecting the right preposition for your writing, it’s essential to consider your audience and the intended tone of your message. Maintaining consistency in language and catering to the preferences of your readers can make a significant difference in how well your content is received. As a rule of thumb, ‘among’ is the more contemporary choice and would likely resonate better with American audiences. On the other hand, ‘amongst’ might be more acceptable for readers accustomed to British English, although ‘among’ is still generally preferred.

Communication tone plays a major role in your choice between ‘among’ and ‘amongst.’ If you’re going for a formal and somewhat grave tone, ‘amongst’ might be a suitable option. For everyday communication and a more modern feel, opt for ‘among.’ The ultimate goal is to ensure clear writing that is easy to understand and aligns with the context of your message. This will showcase your effective grammar usage and help you connect better with your audience.

As you continue to hone your writing skills and become more adept at using the appropriate prepositions, always remember that your priority should be facilitating understanding and honoring the tone appropriate for your work. By doing so, you’ll be better equipped to create engaging and impactful content that consistently speaks to your readers.