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I’ve always been taught that the word “amid(st)” should be used exclusively with singular, specifically singular and uncountable nouns, especially those which express an abstract idea, (e.g. “His anxiety grew amid the confusion of the board room.”), while the word “among(st)” should be used with plural, countable nouns (e.g. “Among all her friends, Karen was the most self-righteous.”).

However, if you use Google search to perform a comparison of popular usage between the exact phrases “amid concerns” and “among concerns”—and “concerns” here is a plural, countable noun, which should use “among(st)”—it turns out that the former matches 2,300,000 results, while the latter (which is nominally “correct”) matches only 41,400 results. The comparison isn’t even close.

Is “amid concerns” a valid usage of “amid(st)”, despite its not being uncountable, because the word represents an abstract idea? Or is this instead a sort of deeply-entrenched hypercorrection in popular (not only colloquial language—Google also searches scientific papers, official documents, media, etc) written language, with its origin in analogy with the correct phrase “amid concern” (wherein the grammatically-correct singular, uncountable form is used to encapsulate any and all individual concerns)?


Edit:

I’ve been asked about where I was taught this rule. To be honest, I only have hazy recollections of specific grammar rules taught to me over 30 years ago, and I couldn’t tell you specifically who taught this to me or when. At this point, it’s more something that I’ve completely internalized. However, in wondering about this question and doing a basic survey of answers on Google, I noticed several popular grammar guides teaching this “rule”. I’m not saying that it is correct or incorrect—in fact, my question is basically asking whether it is correct in the first place. (Note: I am not citing the below examples as definitive or “correct” sources, just as examples of the same popular conception that I seemingly inherited.)

Example 1

Example 2 (although this page contradicts itself when it says “Amid is used when we talk about uncountable things”, with the example “…amid allegations of fraud”)

Example 3

Example 4

Example 5

There are dozens of examples of this “rule”. Again, I am not saying it’s correct, just that somewhere along the line this was also imparted to me, and that’s why I’m here to ask about it.


I think my conclusion is that this “rule” is yet another example of overzealous and misinformed would-be grammarians creating unnecessarily stringent grammar rules.

It seems that “amid” can be used with both uncountable and countable nouns, while “among” can only be used with countable nouns. Furthermore, “amid” generally imparts more of a sense of aggregation or “against a background of” when used with either uncountable or countable nouns and is especially used with nouns that represent abstract ideas, whereas “among” generally imparts a sense of “in the company of” or “belonging”.

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  • What is your source for this rule about "admid(st)," other than "I've been taught"?
    – alphabet
    Commented Apr 25, 2023 at 21:49
  • "Amid" and "among" mean two different things.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Apr 26, 2023 at 1:48
  • @alphabet just search Google for “amid vs among” and you will see several examples of this “rule”. I’m not claiming it’s correct, just that it seemingly exists.
    – Avana Vana
    Commented Apr 26, 2023 at 6:22
  • @HotLicks they both have multiple uses, and in some of those uses they mean different things (e.g. “among” can denote belonging to a set, while “amid” can describe the background against which a thing is set), while in another they mean the same thing (i.e. “surrounded by”). But if you consult popular grammar manuals, they nearly all instruct that “amid” should only be used with uncountable nouns and “among” with countable nouns, regardless of this.
    – Avana Vana
    Commented Apr 26, 2023 at 6:54
  • 1
    @alphabet I’ve added several examples of “English grammar guides” that claim this rule to the end of my question to save you the trouble.
    – Avana Vana
    Commented Apr 26, 2023 at 7:29

1 Answer 1

1

I'm not sure that those who taught you did a good job.

By their nature, amid and among demand that

  • (a) their object has, at least, one thing on either side of it, i.e. two things in all, which will be countable nouns.

2007; B. Gibberd, N.Y. Waters; 107: Tugboats are..innately dangerous places—20,000 gallons of diesel fuel sitting amid two powerful, churning engines.

Or

  • (b) the object is surrounded by the amorphous mass of an [class] object,

or, as the OED puts the latter, and includes uncountable nouns:

with a noun or pronoun denoting either a group or aggregation of individuals, or something regarded as constituting a surrounding medium or expanse.

1919 D. Grant Single Track vi. 84 A hasty breakfast amid a noisy crowd of laborers and returning miners.

1957 D. Du Maurier Scapegoat v. 62 A small rounded building..stood isolated amid the grass in front of me.

'Amid' can also be used in much the same manner, but

  1. Without reference to physical location: in a context, setting, etc., of; against a background of; in the course of, during.

e.g. Amid the sorrow/festivities, she heard John's distinctive voice. (2023, Greybeard)

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  • Well, “b” and “c” are exactly the usage I describe, but your “a” example reads as very antiquated—it seems that in such a sentence, the word “between” is the grammatically-correct and contemporary choice. If you do a Google search for “amid vs among” and “amid vs between”, or “amid vs among vs between”, you will see dozens of “grammarians” lecturing about the “rule” I described above. I’m not saying it’s right or wrong, just that such a rule seems to exist. But you still haven’t answered my question: is “amid concerns” correct? It fits neither your “a”, “b”, nor “c”.
    – Avana Vana
    Commented Apr 26, 2023 at 6:27
  • Or is “amid concerns” correct, in accordance with either of your rules “b” or “c”, because “concerns” is either being used as an aggregation/surrounding medium, or a context/background? (and I’m not sure there is much difference between “a surrounding medium or expanse” and “in a context, against a background of”, particularly when used with nouns representing abstract ideas.
    – Avana Vana
    Commented Apr 26, 2023 at 6:46
  • I think my conclusion is that this “rule” is overly stringent and bogus, and that both “amid” and “among” can be used with countable nouns, but only “amid” can be used with uncountable nouns. Furthermore, “amid” generally imparts more of a sense of aggregation or “against a background of” when used with either uncountable or countable nouns and is especially used with nouns that represent abstract ideas, whereas “among” generally imparts a sense of “in the company of” or “belonging”, but both are appropriate when the sense is simply “surrounded by”. Does this sound okay?
    – Avana Vana
    Commented Apr 26, 2023 at 7:32
  • @AvanaVana "this “rule” is overly stringent," -> "There are no rules in English, only guidance. Some guidance looks like a rule; it probably isn't." Of course a plural can be used after amid. My first quote gives an example. Here's another: Global Economic Prospects, June 2019: Heightened Tensions, World Bank Group · 2019 "While the risk of an abrupt increase in U.S. long-term yields has abated amid concerns about slowing activity, ... an unexpected pickup in global growth could contribute to a tightening of borrowing conditions."
    – Greybeard
    Commented Apr 26, 2023 at 8:27
  • Agreed—that’s why I’ve been using the scare quotes around “rule”. Having said that, there is better and worse use of English, and since I’ve internalized this overly-stringent guidance and noticed it all over putative grammar guides, I wanted to get this community’s take on whether adhering to it makes my writing better or worse.
    – Avana Vana
    Commented Apr 26, 2023 at 14:35

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