Steering Clear of “Between” Blunders: A Guide to Correct Usage

The little preposition “between” seems straightforward, but it frequently leads to confusion in English. The most common mistake involves using ‘between’ when the correct word is ‘among’. Let’s break down the key points and gain clarity:

Core Rule: Between vs. Among

  • Between: Use for two distinct items or individuals. Example: “The decision is between chocolate cake and vanilla ice cream.”
  • Among: Use for three or more items or individuals, or when they are part of a group or not distinct. Example: “I found myself among a crowd of excited fans.”

Common “Between” Mistakes and Corrections

  1. Too Many Choices:
    • Incorrect: “The competition is between Italy, France, Spain, and Brazil.”
    • Correct: “The competition is among Italy, France, Spain, and Brazil.”
  2. Groups, Not Individuals:
    • Incorrect: “He divided the money between his five friends.”
    • Correct: “He divided the money among his five friends.” (They’re part of a friend group)
  3. Blurred Lines:
    • Incorrect: “I couldn’t decide between the blue, green, and yellow shirts.”
    • Correct: “I couldn’t decide among the blue, green, and yellow shirts.” (They’re not being directly compared against each other individually)

Why “Between” Gets Misused

Often, we default to ‘between’ because it feels more familiar in everyday speech. However, taking a moment to consider whether the items are distinct (between) or part of a broader set (among) helps ensure correct usage.

Additional Notes:

  • In some cases, both “between” and “among” can be technically correct, but with subtle differences in meaning.
  • Regional variations in English usage exist, but the core distinction between two vs. three or more remains consistent.

Practice Makes Perfect

The best way to master “between” and “among” is to be mindful in your writing and speech. With a little attention, you’ll soon be using these prepositions with confidence!

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