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'between' and 'among'

You have words - now what do you do with them?

Postby Slava » Sun Feb 28, 2010 10:49 pm

Audiendus wrote:The Oxford English Dictionary states:
[Between] is still the only word available to express the relation of a thing to many surrounding things severally and individually, among expressing a relation to them collectively and vaguely.

It points out that between has been used with more than two items for as long as the word has existed, i.e. over 1,000 years.

We say "Switzerland lies between France, Germany, Italy and Austria" and "a treaty was signed between the three nations". Here we are referring to a single collective relationship, not a series of bilateral ones.

And to return to my earlier post, what alternative word would you suggest if the guests were seated in a line, or if the plate only travelled a small part of the circle? "Between" seems a nice versatile word which can be used to cover all such possibilities.

Well, I'm going to have to take what may sound like a cop out here, but I do believe we have good illustration of the differences between our two forms of English here.

If the plate is going in a line, I would never think of saying anything other than "The plate was passed down the line."

Does it not reach all the people in the circle? "The plate was passed among a few of the people at the table."

And, "Switzerland has borders with ....." "The treaty was signed by...."

This is not to say that any of the sentences from Audiendus is wrong, just that my Amerispeak doesn't include them wholeheartedly. I can see how they can work, but I couldn't use them myself.

The same goes for many of Enigma's proposals in other posts here in the Grammar forum.

Let's face it, my spell-checker doesn't like Audiendus' double l in traveled.

Apologies for the Audiensus earlier, by the way.
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Postby Enigma » Mon Mar 01, 2010 1:41 am

'between' may be the correct word to use, but this doesn't necessarily mean the sentence is devoid of ambiguities. As Slava showed, there are clearer alternatives.
What you see, yet can not see over, is as good as infinite. ~Thomas Carlyle
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Postby saparris » Mon Mar 01, 2010 12:34 pm

'between' may be the correct word to use, but this doesn't necessarily mean the sentence is devoid of ambiguities. As Slava showed, there are clearer alternatives.


Perhaps "the treaty was signed by..." is clearer than "the treaty was between...." However, "the plate was passed down the line" doesn't work if the passers are sitting around a table."

Audiensus's between/among examples should remind us that the standard "rules" work in most cases, but that occasionally they force us to put square pegs into round holes.
Ars longa, vita brevis
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