Among friends, what’s a little between? When do we use which of these prepositions? Previously, when I considered buying an ereader, I had only two choices: the nook and its competitor. So I could choose between the two items.
But now that the another product has entered the fray, I have three choices. And I have a choice of two prepositions, among or between.
The prescriptivist, right/wrong, proper v improper grammar answer is that we use between when we describe speech, action, or thought regarding two things and among when we describe speech, action, or thought regarding three or more things.
Thus, we choose or distinguish between two alternatives, but we choose or distinguish among three or more.
We make our pick between the Colts and the Saints, the Yankees and the Mets, apples and oranges, and HBO and Showtime. But when we pick our favorite from the whole NFL, American League, or the 600+ cable channels many of us have available, we have to pick one among many.
An interesting nuance to this prescription comes up when we look at things that are divided incrementally, or one from the other.
So, in discussions about ebook revenues, the revenues might be divided between the retailer, publishers, agents, and authors, because first the revenues are divided between retailers and publishers, then publishers and agents, then between agents and authors.
Of course, as a working grammarian, a connoisseur of “applied grammar” as it were, seeing grammar in action, used by editors, authors, and students every day, I wonder sometimes how many people actually observe this distinction.
So, do you distinguish between among and between in your writing? In your speech?
And for extra credit, who is your Super Bowl pick?
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