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“between” vs “among”

I want to use the following line item under a job in a restaurant

Alternated between various job roles to meet the needs of a busy fine dining restaurant

Is this correct? Or should it be among instead of between. Can you use alternate with among? "

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If this is for a resume or something, I'd suggest a rewording. The way you've phrased it now, it almost looks like you were bouncing between jobs. I think you're trying to emphasize the challenge of handling many competing demands all at once during a shift at the restaurant (that is, your need to multitask in a busy environment). If that's the case, I'd recommend a verb that requires no preposition, e.g., something like: Juggled many diverse responsibilities to keep a busy fine dining restaurant running smoothly. –  J.R. Oct 10 '12 at 14:53
Good question, Debbie –  Peter Guess Oct 10 '12 at 15:04
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marked as duplicate by tchrist, Roaring Fish, Mr. Shiny and New 安宇, RegDwigнt Oct 10 '12 at 14:49

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3 Answers

Grammar Girl says this:

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."

Speaking of Grammar Girl, DailyLit.com is offering The Grammar Devotional by Grammar Girl for free, one tip at a time. Click on the link and you can sign up for it.

Back to the question. It's okay to use between for three or more whatevers according to the OED, M-W's Dictionary of English Usage, and most of the big guns of English usage. The M-WDEU calls the notion of between only for two and among for three or more unfounded. I agree and usually use between for many individual and separately identified items (groups, especially) in biomedical articles. No journal editor has complained in 15+ years.

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My OED says nothing like that. The only sense in which 'between' can extend to more than two is if it is a shared idea - a secret, or a treaty, or similar. –  Roaring Fish Oct 10 '12 at 15:01
The M-WDEU references the OED and Murray himself to boot, and I'm merely reporting what the M-WDEU says (that wasn't clear, I know. Sorry about that). Ask tchrist to look it up. My digital OED doesn't work on Win7. –  user21497 Oct 10 '12 at 15:06
My digital OED is working fine, so I already looked it up. "1. The proper word expressing the local relation of a point to two other points in opposite directions from it.." as I posted above. More than two is mentioned only in 12 ("used of privacy or secrecy in conversation") and 19 that says "In Old English and Middle English it was so extended in sense A.1, in which among is now considered better." but it can be used for treaties or candidates, which are ideas. Personally, I use M-W only for lighting barbecues... –  Roaring Fish Oct 10 '12 at 15:20
Then you must be filthy rich as well as hyper-opinionated (biased, you know). :-) Murray, the editor of the OED dismisses the idea that between can be used only for two entities, says M-WDEU. Who am I to disagree? Talking about lines between points, however, is different from talking about "between Harvard, Brown, and Yale", doncha know? One is math and the other is everyday English for the academically and financially gifted. –  user21497 Oct 10 '12 at 15:43
Is 'getting it done' a real- world item, or an idea? Job roles really do exist in the real world, so between is limited to two. 'Getting it done' does not exist in the real world, it is an idea, so just like keeping a secret or making a choice it can extend to more than two. –  Roaring Fish Oct 11 '12 at 2:41
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Strictly speaking, one can only alternate between two things. So it might be better to say

Switched between various job roles to meet the needs of a busy fine dining restaurant.

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Once can also vacillate, perambulate, cogitate, ruminate, and vegetate between two things. What one does between two things is not so restrictive, I swan. –  user21497 Oct 10 '12 at 14:51
That's not what I meant. I meant the word alternate should not be used where more than two subjects are involved. –  Alan Gee Oct 10 '12 at 14:54
I know what you meant. I was commenting on the position of "only". Strictly speaking. But I have to stop commenting so much. I've just been justly admonished by a moderator for being wont to chat in the wrong venue. Mea culpa. End of dicussion. Sorry. –  user21497 Oct 10 '12 at 15:04
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To answer your question regarding the use of between and among, you are correct: between is used with two, among with three or more.

The problem then is that you're left with a dilemma: grammatical correctness versus common (mis)usage.

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@tchrist: From OED ~ between, prep., adv., and n. Pronunciation: /bɪtˈwiːn/ 1. The proper word expressing the local relation of a point to two other points in opposite directions from it (i.e. if a point has two other points on opposite sides of it, it is said to be between them): In the space which separates two points; in the direct line which joins two points; hence, in any line of communication which passes from one point, place, or object, to another. –  Roaring Fish Oct 10 '12 at 14:53
Thanks for the confirmation. But when does lack of knowledge of grammar yield to common usage, and common usage then become correct? (rhetorical) –  Peter Guess Oct 10 '12 at 15:10
@RoaringFish oed.com lists many more definitions and uses for "between" and has usage notes for cases where there are definitely three parties and you should not use "among"‌​. –  Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Oct 10 '12 at 18:03
@RoaringFish but you probably knew that, it's in .19 which you partially quoted above, but left out this: It is still the only word available to express the relation of a thing to many surrounding things severally and individually, among expressing a relation to them collectively and vaguely: we should not say ‘the space lying among the three points,’ or ‘a treaty among three powers,’ or ‘the choice lies among the three candidates in the select list,’ or ‘to insert a needle among the closed petals of a flower’. –  Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Oct 10 '12 at 18:05
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