It seems amongst is quite often used as a synonym for among but it is supposed to sound more distinguished. Is there any difference in the meaning?
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This is similar to the relation between “while” and “whilst”, or between “amid” and “amidst”.
As with "whilst", "amongst" is:
Anyway, the summary seems to be that "amongst" is slightly pretentious (or "distinguished" as you say), but is common in Britain, and its meaning is almost identical.
For a historical perspective of among vs amongst in American English, I did an analysis using the Corpus of Historical American English (COHA).
I found that since even as far back as 1810, among was many times more common than amongst.
From this data, we see that both among and amongst have been becoming less frequently used overall since 1810, but that among has always been much more common. The ratio of among to amongst started at about 10 to 1 in 1810 and had risen to about 50 to 1 by 1920, and it has been pretty stable there since then. Amongst is definitely much less common than among in American English, but it is in no danger of dying out.
I realize that I fall on the "British" side of the English language (Australian, actually), but I tend to use among mostly, but amongst when the following word starts with a vowel. So
I have no references to back me up; just thought I'd add my $0.02 worth.
"Among" is much more common in modern writing, at least in American English, so that probably explains why "amongst" might sound more "distinguished". (See this article which discusses the matter.) But there is absolutely no difference in meaning. (See e.g. Wiktionary: among, amongst.)
Also of note, the New Oxford American Dictionary lists "amongst" as chiefly British variant of "among". It does seem to be somewhat more common in British English (but still clearly less common than "among").
It is usually used in a metaphorical sense rather than a literal one. The ball falls amongst the trees in the forest (the ball might not literally be between the trees); the ball was found among two trees (literally between the trees).
protected by tchrist Feb 22 '15 at 0:33
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