By Sarah-Ann Binning
While proof reading my boyfriend’s group paper Monday night, I came across today’s topic: amongst. Whichever group member typed the case study, used “amongst” rather than “among.” I thought to myself, that can’t be right, can it? I mean, it sounds like old English. As I read “amongst” I couldn’t help picturing Bryan and his group sitting around the round table dressed in the latest medieval apparel, writing their paper by candlelight, scribbling feverishly with a quill. I chuckled to myself as I changed “amongst” to “among.”
I didn’t have my AP stylebook or my Precision Language handbook nearby as I proofread, so I made a mental note to look it up when I returned home and blog about it on Wednesday.
One’s use of amongst or among depends on one’s location. The dictionary acknowledges that the terms can be used interchangeably. Amongst and among are both preposition meaning “In the midst of; surrounded by.” However, dictionary.com and other sources state that “amongst” in primarily used in Britain. (That’s probably why it sounds so ‘old English’ to me.)
I must confess I do enjoy using “Amongst” on occasion. Sometime we just need a Briticism like “amongst” to make us feel prim, proper and plain ol’ silly.
In the United States, the preference is toward “among.” As a journalist, my leaning is also toward “among” as it is the shorter choice … and in the printing business we care most about tightening and condensing our work.
Now, what about “amid?” It’s an even shorter word than “among.” Can we use these two terms interchangeably? No. Dictionary.com lists then as synonyms, but my Precision Language handbook disagrees. While amid, and amidst, also are prepositions meaning “in the middle of; surrounded by,” their use depends on the prepositional phrase.
Take a look at the phrase. Can the items be counted? If so, use among. The eagle seemed to dance among the stars. Stars can be counted. (It just might take you awhile on a clear night in the country to count all the stars, but they can still be counted).
If the items cannot be separated, the term to use is amid (or amidst). The orphan stood amid the ruins. I trod amidst the heartache and sorrow. The ruins, heartache and sorrow are collective and difficult to measure. I apologize for offering such depressing examples for amid. Here’s a more upbeat one: After receiving an “A” on her exam, she felt like she was soaring among happiness and the heavens.
These rules are similar to the fewer/less rule I discuss in my “Weird Al” Grammar Lessons on May 5, 2010.