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After reading the answers to What is the distinction between "among" and "amongst"?, I realize there are no dictionary differences between the words and most would consider "amongst" a bit archaic. However, the following example seems to suggest there are at least contextual ambiguities that can arise if we use the words interchangeably.

Let’s discuss the issues among the departments.

Let’s discuss the issues amongst the departments.

The first sentence using among means there are issues between departments. The second sentence using amongst means we want to talk to the departments about the issues. - source: from the comments

Is this explanation correct, or are the proposed differences presenting a false sense of clarity where "issues" remains ambiguous regardless of using "among" or "amongst?"

  • I think that in both sentences 'among' and 'amongst' each modify the verb discuss, and not 'departments'. I do not accept that either give much indication that there are issues 'between' the departments. One does not often speak of outstanding issues 'among' the neighbours. One would usually speak of them as being 'between' the neighbours. – WS2 Nov 7 '13 at 15:37
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    possible duplicate of What is the distinction between "among" and "amongst"? (I think OP's distinction here is spurious, and should be at most either a comment or a voteable answer to the original question). – FumbleFingers Nov 7 '13 at 15:47
  • @FumbleFingers - I thought about making this an answer to that question, but it felt inappropriate as I am seeking supporting sources for the above assertions (which I have not been able to find) not proposing that they are correct. Also, it's a bit long for a comment and wouldn't have achieved the level of attention I was going for. Regardless, do you have any suggestions on how to further distinguish this question from the other? – Brandon Boone Nov 7 '13 at 16:25
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    @Brandon: The thing is, I don't accept the distinction put forward by "Lloyd" in the discussion you linked to. None of the answers on our own question, nor your DailyWritingTips article text itself, make any reference to a possible semantic difference. My suggestion is you should just post the claimed distinction as an answer to the original, and see if it gets any upvotes. Personally I'm unsure at the moment whether I would explicitly downvote such an answer, or simply refrain from upvoting it. – FumbleFingers Nov 7 '13 at 16:38
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    To my American ears, and for reasons I can't fully explain, the first sentence sounds like a dialogue must take place involving all departments; the second sentence sounds more like we'll have a discussion at a location which is geographically central to all departments. – Flimzy Nov 8 '13 at 1:18
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Your boxed example deliberately presents an ambiguous sentence so as to let any biases from the word have maximal impact, but just because readers will experience some impact doesn't mean there is a "correct" difference between the words. When I read your boxed example, I understood the meanings in exactly the reverse of the way the box claims the meanings to be. One of the commenters had a third understanding. This shows that individuals have different inclinations regarding the nuances of "among" vs. "amongst". Since dictionaries also do not provide any distinction, it would be a mistake to think that some particular distinction is correct.

Every individual learns words through examples. People's understandings will lean towards whatever specific examples they have seen of its use, and for words like "amongst" which are not so common, there will be a random bias, varying from individual to individual, due to the specific examples they happen to have seen. As people see more examples, their understandings converge to a common understanding. (This is related to "the law of large numbers.")

The intent of a dictionary is to shortcut the process of seeing thousands of examples, by trying to directly convey the understanding that all these examples would give you. Not surprisingly, the dictionaries are giving you good information regarding "among" and "amongst": there is not any widespread reliable difference in understanding between these two words.

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The dictionary and other trusted resources state that among and amongst are the same in meaning. Since among is the modern word, and we are in the modern times, we want to use among instead of amongst. They can be used interchangeably. However, if you are writing a story and its setting is in the middle ages (or the time when amongst was invented or used), you should use amongst.

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