Two images are shown.  The one on the left depicts three small blue squares labeled A, B, and C lined up from left to right.  On the right, labeled A is a large blue polygon with a "U" shape but with right angles.  It has a small blue square labeled B sitting inside the arms of shape A.

On the left, I know "B is between A and C"

But on the right, can I use "B is between A"??

Is "between" only used for two different objects?

  • 1
    Yes, you need two things in order for B to be "between." A is only one thing. But are you looking for a different word that would work? Jan 7 at 3:18
  • I'm trying to figure how to describe the image in my head. Is it a feature that B doesn't touch A? Is it important that the shape shares no contact with A?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jan 7 at 9:06
  • ‘Between’? It's a well-known footballing phrase… :-)
    – gidds
    Jan 7 at 14:06
  • 'B is between the uprights of A' works. Note that there can be more than two 'surrounders': the Peak District lies between Manchester, Sheffield, Stoke and Derby. Jan 7 at 17:36
  • 1
    Etymologically, “between” is strictly for two things (it’s roughly “by-twin” in form). Etymologies aren’t definitions, and you can find many speakers using it of more than two things (where pedants would insist on “among”)… but I don’t think anyone would use it of one thing. Jan 7 at 18:51

4 Answers 4


No, between cannot be used with a singular noun phrase as its complement. It requires multiple complements so that you can draw lines between those several arguments and place your object along or within those lines.

The OED says of between:

III. Of relation to things acting conjointly or participating in action.

  1. Expressing the position of anything confined or enclosed by objects on opposite sides.
    • 1594 W. Shakespeare Lucrece sig. D2
      The pillow..Betweene whose hils her head intombed is.
    • 1853 E. K. Kane U.S. Grinnell Exped. i. 13
      The Arctic Ocean is inclosed between the northern shores of Asia, Europe, and America.

You would never say that the Earth’s central core is ❌between its mantle. It is not. The core lies within the mantle. The mantle encloses or surrounds the core.

You might insert a needle between the petals of a flower bud, but never ❌between the flower. You always need more things to be between than just one alone. When the surrounding petals enclose the needle, the needle is between them all.

So in your case, B lies between the twin arms of A, not ❌between A. Notice how arms is plural. That's what makes it work.

  • 1
    I would identify a plural noun phrase as one complement, syntactically. I am between jobs features jobs as one complement (not "multiple complements"). I agree, though, that a single complement needs to be plural here. Jan 7 at 2:52
  • 3
    @TinfoilHat Right: it can't be singular in notion. The candle can burn brightly placed in the middle of the table between the couple seated there. The couple comprises two people, so the candle can burn between plural "them"; the candle cannot burn between singular "it".
    – tchrist
    Jan 7 at 3:14

I would mirror the other responses and say that "between" implies two distinct entities.

For the second example you provided, you could say:

B is between the sides of A

with each side being a distinct entity.

However, I prefer using "amidst" for something in a single entity and "amongst" for multiple

For example:

B is amidst A


B is amongst the A's


Logically by definition this cannot be done and by convention this is not done. It can be used and may be understood but may not have wide acceptance anywhere. This may be due to: every reasonable definition requires at least two objects. To contrast, "in the middle of" is a way many English speakers would express this idea.

  • note: "reasonable" means "the quality of being used commonly enough to make it into even a sloppy dictionary online, let alone any reputable source"
  • 2
    Every reasonable definition requires at least two objects.
    – tchrist
    Jan 7 at 2:10

The equator as a whole is between north and south, but, say, the north pole as a circular point is between only south.

Going by circles of latitude, or parallels, to either pole means that, then, to back up is the same thing as continuing on, from the pole, until off the pole.

Anyway, I recall that it was Hawking, who said that once you are at the north pole, you can't go any further north.

  • 2
    No native English speaker in the world would describe the north pole as being "between the south (pole)" for any reason save awkward wordplay. Also, the north pole is not a "circular point"; a point (in this context) is a point, it doesn't have a shape. The rest of this answer is confusing and wholly unrelated to the OP's question. Jan 7 at 18:03
  • @ShadowRanger Of course not, but, I gave an example context of describing the poles as such. Yes, the point in this context is circular, as limit of circles of latitude. What is confusing is your response, in the sense that it really nor actually says anything, except that you are opposed to a bit of thinking that just doesn't agree with the status quo. Jan 7 at 18:22

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