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Today I was cut off in the middle of the following sentence:

"Between Cook, Strauss and Pietersen..."

My friend said I was wrong; for more than 2 entities, among/amongst are used. Between is only for 2 entities. I vaguely remember some rule like this, but I asked him to hear the whole sentence, which was:

"Between Cook, Strauss and Pietersen, they've notched up 56 centuries in Test cricket"

Should I have used 'among' here? Seems correct to me to use 'between,' but my friend was certain. Another friend pointed out the sentence "I'm still choosing between Harvard, Yale and MIT." Certainly 'among' doesn't fit seem to fit here, and she, to me, was correct in using 'between'.

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4 Answers

up vote 27 down vote accepted

GrammarGirl did a whole post on this. She explains that there is a difference between between and among. She writes:

Here's the deal: you can use the word “between” when you are talking about distinct, individual items even if there are more than two of them. For example, you could say, "She chose between Harvard, Brown, and Yale" because the colleges are individual items.

She goes on to explain that in the following cases, you use the two slightly differently:

Relationships: The Chicago Manual of Style describes these as one-to-one relationships. Sometimes they are between two items, groups, or people, as in these sentences:

  • Choose between Squiggly and Aardvark.
  • Let's keep this between you and me.

Other times they can be between more than two items, groups, or people as in these sentences:

  • The negotiations between the cheerleaders, the dance squad, and the flag team were going well despite the confetti incident.
  • The differences between English, Chinese, and Arabic are significant.

On the other hand, you use “among” when you are talking about things that aren't distinct items or individuals; for example, if you were talking about colleges collectively you could say, "She chose among the Ivy League schools." If you are talking about a group of people, you also use “among”:

  • Fear spread among the hostages.

  • The scandal caused a division among the fans.

  • Squiggly and Aardvark are among the residents featured in the newsletter.

Part of a Group: “Among” can also indicate that someone is part of a group or left out of a group, as in these examples:

  • He was glad to find a friend among enemies.
  • She felt like a stranger among friends.
  • Sylvia was later found living among the natives.

From this, you were correct in your use of between. "Cook et. al." formed part of a distinct group of individuals, so you would use between.

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Cook at. al. are, in this context, part of a group: the England Cricket team. (And with any luck, tomorrow, Cook will pick up a double century.) –  Richard Aug 11 '11 at 21:40
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I like Strunk and White's simple example, from The Elements of Style:

When more than two things or persons are involved, among is usually called for: "The money was divided among the four players." When, however, more than two are involved but each is considered individually, between is preferred: "an agreement between the six heirs."

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There is such a rule, but the rule depends on context:

It is not strictly correct that between is used for two things and among for more than two.

When exactly two entities are specified, between should always be used: “This contract is entered into between the Seller and the Purchaser.”

However, when more than two entities are involved or when the number of entities is unspecified, the word choice depends on what you want to say. Between should be used where the relationship is distinctly one-to-one:

“The agreement was entered into between the Seller, the Purchaser and the Guarantor.”

Among should be used where the entities are considered as a group, mass or collectivity:

“There is consensus among shareholders that this approach be adopted.”

In your sentence, I would definitely have used between, as the relationship is clearly one-to-one. It would make more sense too.

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This is in my NOAD, check the third paragraph:

USAGE
Between is used in speaking of only two things, people, etc.: "we must choose between two equally unattractive alternatives."

Among is used for collective and undefined relations of usually three or more: "Agreement on landscaping was reached among all the neighbors."

--->But where there are more than two parties involved, between may be used to express one-to-one relationships of pairs within the group or the sense 'shared by': "There is close friendship between the members of the club."; diplomatic relations between the U.S., Canada, and Mexico.

Between you and I,: between you and he, etc., are incorrect; between should be followed only by the objective case: between you and me,: between you and him, etc.

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two is supported also by etymology - between where tween is from *tweon "two each". (not that etymology is that important in usage) –  Unreason Aug 12 '11 at 16:07
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