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I am unsure on when to use from instead of among and vice versa.

Here is the question that I missed on an exam:

The man had to choose [__] 6 ties for the interview.

I chose from which apparently was wrong, even if, to me, from sounds correct as well as among sounds correct.

I have tried to look this up on the Internet with no avail, so any help would be appreciated.

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Was this a fill-in-the-blank question or a multiple-choice question? If it was a fill-in-the-blank question, the people who designed the question may not even have realized that "from" was a possibility, and were expecting you to choose between "between" and "among", and not among "between", "among", and "from". –  Peter Shor Aug 4 '13 at 0:52
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The man had to choose from among six ties wouldn't be unusual either. –  choster Aug 4 '13 at 0:53
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I agree with Choster. As a native speaker, my first thought was "from among," or "from amongst," and I wouldn't think anything of hearing just "from." However, "The man had to choose among six ties..." sounds off to me. –  Kevin Aug 4 '13 at 1:01
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I don't get this question. For me the best choice would be The man had to choose from among 6 ties for the interview. Credible alternatives include between and out of, as well as either of the "single word" options given by OP. –  FumbleFingers Aug 4 '13 at 2:34
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@Carlo_R.: To choose from isn't a "phrasal verb". It's just that the "selection pool" relevant to a specific usage of to choose can be optionally specified. And if it is specified, it's linked with a preposition such as from. Thus, "I chose from the menu" is valid. A direct object that can also be specified, as in "I chose lobster from the menu", or just "I chose lobster". But in no sense is there any kind of "phrasal verb" involved. –  FumbleFingers Aug 4 '13 at 2:46
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5 Answers 5

Both are valid, but they say very slightly different things. Carlo mentioned you can say "I chose from the menu" but note that you cannot say "*I chose among the menu" nor "*I chose from among the menu." I think that gives us the key to the difference.

When you say "chose [from] among" I assume you mean six physical ties. Now that you've taken one, only five are left. But when you say "chose from" I entertain the possibility that you mean six kinds of tie. That is, maybe you were shopping on Amazon, and there are still six ties for the next customer to consider.

This is a rule that runs at large. The difference between two expressions often cannot be seen without some context around them.

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It sounds like you were being tested for the usage of between/among. Between relates to two objects, while among relates to three or more. The person who created the test probably did not consider "from" as a possibility, although it is still grammatically correct.

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It is not true that between is limited to two. That's another of those dumb myths. –  tchrist Aug 19 '13 at 14:26
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@tchrist Correct me if I'm wrong, but I've read that between usually applies to two things, while among applies to more than two things. –  Timtech Aug 19 '13 at 15:47
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No doubt you've read it—just like you've probably also read that it's wrong to end a sentence in a preposition or split an infinitive from its 'to' marker. All commonly perpetuated misconceptions that have no basis in how the English language is actually used. Consider: “The meaning of 'jovial' is somewhere between 'hearty', 'friendly', 'forthcoming', and 'straightforward'.” Using 'among' would not work at all here; 'between' is the only real option. Similarly, “Between me, my brother, and my sister, we have five cats and four dogs.” –  Janus Bahs Jacquet Aug 19 '13 at 15:53
    
Okay, but I knew the other stuff you mentioned already ;) –  Timtech Aug 19 '13 at 19:08
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With choose from you can select many items. With choose among you are selecting a single item.

If you're shopping and you choose from the items in a catalog, you can buy 17 items.

If you choose among the items in a catalog, you're selecting one item.

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If I had to choose among 30 different ties to find 3 different ties that matched my suit, why could I not choose among 30 to find 3? Did the 3 not exist among the 30?

The meaning of from according to Miriam Webster: 1 a —used as a function word to indicate a starting point of a physical movement or a starting point in measuring or reckoning or in a statement of limits b —used as a function word to indicate the starting or focal point of an activity 2 —used as a function word to indicate physical separation or an act or condition of removal, abstention, exclusion, release, subtraction, or differentiation 3 —used as a function word to indicate the source, cause, agent, or basis

From only denotes a starting point, a removal/exclusion or source/cause/agent.

"I separated the good from the evil" is a correct usage of 'from' utilizing the second meaning.

The tie came from the closet. The tie that I chose hung among six. I kept the clean ties separate from the dirty ones.

In the statement "The man had to choose from six ties." We are declaring that "six ties" is the point of origin from where the tie was chosen without suggesting a variety to choose among.

In the statement "The man had to choose among six ties." We are declaring that he had six possible tie choices.

In the world that we live in today only a minority would catch that.

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Expanding on @Timtech's answer, I think what we're dealing with here is a badly written exam question, testing for a 'rule' of grammar that does not actually exist.

I would argue strongly that there is nothing wrong with saying

The man had to choose from 6 ties for the interview

The man had to choose between 6 ties for the interview

The man had to choose among 6 ties for the interview

Only the most extremely pedantic English speakers would correct those sentences, even if used very formally.

I'd also argue that the following are just about acceptable, although they sound a little cumbersome to me.

The man had to chose from among 6 ties for the interview

The man had to chose from between 6 ties for the interview

Out of all the options written above, the one that feels most 'natural' to me is the one which the test probably intended to catch and mark as an error: "The man had to choose between 6 ties for the interview".

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