Difference <among, between> A, B and C

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  • mgarizona

    Senior Member
    US - American English
    Well "difference between" makes sense mainly comparing two things. The difference between A and B.

    I can't get my head around a single difference between OR among 3 or more things.
     

    Old Novice

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    Hello Adam,

    It's definitely the "difference between".

    The difference between Anne, Brenda and Celia is that Anne is pretty, Brenda is too fat and Celia is plain, but tall and slim.


    LRV
    Sorry, I have to disagree. :) I was always taught that you have a difference between two things and differences among three or more things. So I would say, "The differences among Anne, Brenda and Celia are that ...". Is this another BE/AE variation?
     

    mgarizona

    Senior Member
    US - American English
    Hello Adam,

    It's definitely the "difference between".

    The difference between Anne, Brenda and Celia is that Anne is pretty, Brenda is too fat and Celia is plain, but tall and slim.
    Really? Wouldn't that be "the differences between"?

    For 'among' I would only use it with an uncounted plural, and with diffrences: "The differences among the various delegates were not likely to be reconciled."
     

    MissFit

    Senior Member
    I agree with Old Novice. Use differences between for two people and differences among for three or more people. In the example offered, there are five differences listed (pretty, fat, plain, tall, slim,) so you would definitely have to use the plural.
     

    equivoque

    Senior Member
    Australia - English
    Between is not limited to two people or things. I've heard about the "rule" to which Old Novice and MissFit refer but to my knowledge it is wrong!

    'Among' tends to refer to a group but when more than two things/people are referred to individually, then between is the correct word.

    eg: "the differences between my toes* are most notably, length, width and shape"

    (*Just for clarification, I have five of them on each foot ;D.)
     

    Porteño

    Member Emeritus
    British English
    I have to agree wholeheartedly with equivoque. You could never say 'the differences among A, B and C ....'. Furthermore, the use of 'difference' or 'differences' will obviously depend on how many differences you intend to decribe.

    For example:

    'The difference between A, B and C is that A is tall, B is medium height and C is short.'

    'The differences between A, B and C are that A and B are intelligent and sports-loving while C is dumb and hates games.'
     

    rsweet

    Senior Member
    English, North America
    Normally, I would ascribe to the between two and among three theory.
    "A and B discussed it between themselves."
    "A, B, and C discussed it among themselves."

    But something goes slightly kablooey when you use difference/s between. I'm not sure if this happens because we've gotten used to something ungrammatical, or because there's another rule in play. Maybe it's that "difference/s" implies a comparison of two things? Also, a lot of these examples are phrased in a way I would never say or write--especially differences between toes, which is not a pretty picture!
     

    cuchuflete

    Senior Member
    EEUU-inglés
    If there is an AE<=>BE difference, I don't know it.
    Here is H.W. Fowler (BE) on the topic:

    The OED gives a warning against the superstition that 'between' can be used only of the relationship between two things; and that if there are more 'among' is the right preposition.
    He goes on to further debunk the supposed rule. See Modern English Usage, second edition, for the remainder of the fine explanation.
     

    equivoque

    Senior Member
    Australia - English
    Thank you cuchuflete for finding some clarification in relation to that extraordinary 'rule'. The whole notion made no sense to me but all I could think of were millions of examples where it couldn't possibly apply.
     

    green_wind

    Member
    China Chinese
    According to a widely repeated but unjustified tradition, between is used for two, and among for more than two.

    It is true that between is the only choice when exactly two entities are specified: the choice between (not among) good and evil.

    When more than two entities are involved, however, or when the number of entities is unspecified, the choice of one or the other word depends on the intended sense.

    Between is used when the entities are considered as distinct individuals; among, when they are considered as a mass or collectivity.

    Thus in the sentence The bomb landed between the houses, the houses are seen as points that define the boundaries of the area of impact (so that we presume that none of the individual houses was hit).

    In The bomb landed among the houses, the area of impact is considered to be the general location of the houses, taken together (in which case it is left open whether any houses were hit).
     

    cruxcriticorum

    Senior Member
    United States, English
    Hi.

    What's the difference between/among both words? (If both mean the same)

    Thanks in advance,

    Winter.
    Hi Wintercrossing.

    Both "between" and "among" can have several meanings depending on the context. As a comparison, between is used when referring to individual people or things, and among is used when referring to part of a larger group.

    "What's the difference between both words?" :tick:
    "What's the difference among both words?" :cross:

    "There was unrest between the spectators." :cross:
    "There was unrest among the spectators." :tick:
     

    Old Novice

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    The classical distinction (i.e., it is what I was taught those many long years ago in school :D) is that "between" refers to comparisons between two and only two items/people/ideas, etc., while "among" refers to comparisons among three or more items/people/ideas, etc. But I believe this subject has been debated here before, I just can't find the thread. My memory is that not everyone agrees with the above distinction.
     

    river

    Senior Member
    U.S. English
    The OED makes this distinction:

    Between expresses one-to-one relations of many things (between you and I; you must find a balcance between family, solitude, and friends).

    Among expresses collecive and undefined relations (There is no honor among thieves; The five grandmothers have 25 grandchildren among them).
     

    miakanna

    Member
    Vic
    Català-Catalunya
    Hi!

    Between is used when talking about two items, and among is used when talking about three or more items.

    Anna
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    The OED makes this distinction:

    Between expresses one-to-one relations of many things (between you and I; you must find a balcance between family, solitude, and friends).

    Among expresses collecive and undefined relations (There is no honor among thieves; The five grandmothers have 25 grandchildren among them).
    I can see how this distinction might work. I was taught the same rule as Old Novice. I wonder if the OED rule would make it:

    The two grandmothers have 12 grandchildren among them (or between them.) To me, only "between" works here.

    I have trouble choising between these five ties. (?) (I would say "from among" here.)


    The "balance between family, solitude, and friends" somehow makes sense to my ear, even though it doesn't follow the pattern I think it should. :) Hmm... now that I look at it, it does seem unsettling somehow, but I know I've said "between work, family, church, and house maintenance, it's difficult for me to find time for myself." That's definitely more than two items. :)


    This is a very interesting question.
     

    Kolan

    Banned
    Russian (CCCP)
    The "balance between family, solitude, and friends" somehow makes sense to my ear, even though it doesn't follow the pattern I think it should. :) Hmm... now that I look at it, it does seem unsettling somehow, but I know I've said "between work, family, church, and house maintenance, it's difficult for me to find time for myself." That's definitely more than two items.
    I guess when one has to make a comparison among more than 2 items, he can still consider only two items at a time (that's how computers do), so that between makes sense. Even though the reflexion goes much faster and it is not easy to separate individual steps. If, let's say, you are choosing from work, family, church, and house, then you first have to put them in order using some criteria, and this can only be done by a series of comparisons in pairs (as elementary operation).

    The example with five ties is quite similar, because they have to be physically sorted first in the linear order in front of you. One is better than another, so you always choose between only two of them each time.

    On the other hand, among does not suggest any sorting and can be applied at once to the entire set of objects. The exact number of objects in this case is not essential (maybe, just two? if there is no point of choosing from them).
     

    learning_grenglish

    Senior Member
    India
    What is the difference between these three sentences?

    Is this sentence correct?

    I think it is incorrect.
    Because I learned that "between" should be used when we talking about two things. And if more than two, we should use "among" instead of "between". So the above sentence should be, "What is the difference among these three sentences", I think.

    Please help me.
     

    LikeBarleyBending

    Senior Member
    China, Chinese
    In my understanding, "between" should be used even when talking about three or more things, because in this case it implies differences between every two:

    differences between A,B and C=diff. between A and B, diff. between B and C, and diff. between A and C


    however the sentence should be changed to a plural form:

    What are the differences between these sentences?
     

    Mugi

    Senior Member
    NZ English
    Nope, although your examples are correct. Between IS NOT limited to two things. "I walked into the forest to measure the distances between the trees."
    Revisiting an old thread, I know...
    Although I agree that 'between' is not limited to two items, the above is not a good example of such; the implication here is that you are measuring the distance between any two trees at a given time, albeit repeating the action at least twice and involving at least three trees.
     

    mgarizona

    Senior Member
    US - American English
    Thank you, Mugi. You're quite right.
    I can't begin to imagine the bizarre formulae of higher mathematics that would have to be trotted out to calculate the distances among the trees!

    (And to open another old wound, should that not be 'amongst'?)
     

    kyn

    Senior Member
    Vietnamese
    < Added to previous thread. Cagey, moderator >


    Is it correct to use "between" here: "What's the difference between A, B and C"/ "What's the difference between those 3 things"?
    I'm asking because I'm only familiar with usign "between" for 2 things. But using "among" here just doesn't sound right to me.
     
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    xqby

    Senior Member
    English (U.S.)
    According to dictionary.com:

    "—Usage note: Among expresses a relationship when more than two persons or things are involved: Distrust spread among even his strongest supporters.
    Between is used when only two persons or things are involved: between you and me; to decide between tea and coffee."

    I don't really like either option, frankly. My phrasing would be "How do A, B, and C differ?"
     

    ewie

    Senior Member
    English English
    What's the difference between A, B and C? sounds absolutely fine to me, Kyn.

    My concise OED has this for between ~ my emphasis added in red:

    between prep. & adv. in, into, along, or across, a space, line, interval, or route, bounded by (any number of, esp. two, points, lines, dates, etc.)
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Many previous threads are listed for between among.

    Grammar rule enthusiasts are likely to insist on between two, among three or more. If you read the threads, you'll see plenty of support for between with more than two.
     

    Cliff Nickerson

    New Member
    English - Mid-Atlantic US
    My specific issue is with a non-native writer always using 'differences among', whether discussing specific differences, differences between two groups of species, of just the fact that the various species aren't the same. My understanding is: When discussing undefined differences among the groups of species, use among. When discussing statistical differences, use between. (I don't think you could say, 'There is an X difference among them.' Where X is a specific statistic.) Am I close, here? Is it ever wrong to use between?
     

    Porteño

    Member Emeritus
    British English
    My specific issue is with a non-native writer always using 'differences among', whether discussing specific differences, differences between two groups of species, of just the fact that the various species aren't the same. My understanding is: When discussing undefined differences among the groups of species, use among. When discussing statistical differences, use between. (I don't think you could say, 'There is an X difference among them.' Where X is a specific statistic.) Am I close, here? Is it ever wrong to use between?
    I reiterate my position as stated in thread #8. When talking about 'differences', 'between' is the only preposition that can be used regardless of how many items are being compared. Other foreros have provided perfect examples of the use of 'among' in other contexts.
     

    Cliff Nickerson

    New Member
    English - Mid-Atlantic US
    I reiterate my position as stated in thread #8. When talking about 'differences', 'between' is the only preposition that can be used regardless of how many items are being compared. Other foreros have provided perfect examples of the use of 'among' in other contexts.
    Thanks. That's what I wanted to hear. The use of among for comparisons doesn't seem correct to me.
     

    alekscooper

    Member
    Russian
    Hello!

    I was taught that we use 'between' while speaking about two objects, items etc., for example:

    1. between you and me
    2. What's the difference between these two models?

    But suppose I want to ask a question about three or more items, I want to know how they differ from each other. What preposition should I use? Can I use 'between here'? For example:

    3. What's the difference between Nokia, Samsung and Motorola phones?

    I'm really not sure about 'between' here. Nor am I sure about 'among' which, again as I was taught should be used when we discuss three or more things.

    What shall I do? :)
     

    owlman5

    Senior Member
    English-US
    A lot of native speakers don't observe that rule about "between", Aleks Cooper, but you probably should if you are being careful with your language. "Among" should serve your needs in sentences like your example.
     

    Cayenarama

    Senior Member
    English-England
    'Advice on priorities between possible areas of activities'
    'Between' seems to maintain the idea of separation whereas 'among/amongst' doesn't. 'Among' definitely sounds wrong here but 'between' is good I think. It's a bit of a weird sentence though but I can't say why.
     

    entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    I don't think it makes any difference. They seem pretty much interchangeable in this context. There is perhaps a suggestion with 'between' that you are thinking about all the possible areas, and choosing between them, whereas with 'among' there may be more areas, and you don't have to think about some of them. So perhaps with 'priorities', 'between' is better, because you want to set a priority for each one, not just some.
     

    Copyright

    Senior Member
    American English
    It sounds like a directive: Advise (us) on priorities between/among ... as in "Advise on priorities between/among brick-laying, plumbing and roofing."

    But I think of priorities as a hierarchical structure -- 1 (roofing), 2 (plumbing), 3 (brick-laying) -- whereas I would expect some sort of "connector" word between or among different areas, perhaps describing how those three elements can work together.

    I don't know that that makes a lot of sense, but if you could explain the underlying meaning, I think it would be helpful.
     
    It sounds like a directive: Advise (us) on priorities between/among ... as in "Advise on priorities between/among brick-laying, plumbing and roofing."

    But I think of priorities as a hierarchical structure -- 1 (roofing), 2 (plumbing), 3 (brick-laying) -- whereas I would expect some sort of "connector" word between or among different areas, perhaps describing how those three elements can work together.

    I don't know that that makes a lot of sense, but if you could explain the underlying meaning, I think it would be helpful.
    Thank you all for your valuable comments. The underlying meaning is as follows:

    "One of the objectives of the Technical Committee is to advise on priorities between areas of the Organization's activities".

    If there are a lot of areas of activities the Technical Committee will help to set the priority areas and exclude areas of lesser importance.
     

    Copyright

    Senior Member
    American English
    Thank you all for your valuable comments. The underlying meaning is as follows:

    "One of the objectives of the Technical Committee is to advise on priorities between areas of the Organization's activities".

    If there are a lot of areas of activities the Technical Committee will help to set the priority areas and exclude areas of lesser importance.
    In that case, I don't think "between" or "among" is appropriate at all.

    "One of the objectives of the Technical Committee is to advise on the priorities in the areas of the Organization's activities".

    And, frankly, I think you could leave out "areas" -- "advise on the priorities in the Organization's activities." :)
     

    wildan1

    Moderando ma non troppo (French-English, CC Mod)
    English - USA
    Thank you all for your valuable comments. The underlying meaning is as follows:

    "One of the objectives of the Technical Committee is to advise on priorities between areas of the Organization's activities".

    If there are a lot of areas of activities the Technical Committee will help to set the priority areas and exclude areas of lesser importance.
    This context offers a third choice, or better put, an alternative to among: across

    ...advise on priorities across areas of the Organization..

    I often hear this choice used in organizational settings. I believe it emerged from the use of matrices to analyze choices.
     
    This context offers a third choice, or better put, an alternative to among: across

    ...advise on priorities across areas of the Organization..

    I often hear this choice used in organizational settings. I believe it emerged from the use of matrices to analyze choices.
    I think that the use of "areas" by the writer is misleading. Because in fact it is about activities to choose from. So maybe here "across" will not be as suitable as it would be in your example.
     

    laogui32

    New Member
    english - australia
    The OED makes this distinction:

    Between expresses one-to-one relations of many things (between you and I; you must find a balcance between family, solitude, and friends).

    Among expresses collecive and undefined relations (There is no honor among thieves; The five grandmothers have 25 grandchildren among them).
    Between them they have 25 grandchildren, and among them are three with five or more grandchildren. Specific and non-specific, determinate and non-determinate, definite and indefinite are the issues, but I cannot quite explain this example! :p
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    This was answered earlier in the thread, in post #11
    If there is an AE<=>BE difference, I don't know it.
    Here is H.W. Fowler (BE) on the topic:
    The OED gives a warning against the superstition that 'between' can be used only of the relationship between two things; and that if there are more 'among' is the right preposition.
    He goes on to further debunk the supposed rule. See Modern English Usage, second edition, for the remainder of the fine explanation.
    So here we are again: "The difference between Pete, Ann, and John is that they all are of different heights." :)
     
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