advice you can use — short and to the point — every Tuesday, Wednesday & Thursday

Wednesday, February 14th, 2018 technology  research  practice

A Research Tip

  • Research & Writing

This one may surprise you.

Purists often say that between must – MUST! – refer only to a relationship involving two parties or things, and no more. The –tween bit does have the same origin as the number two, after all.

Among, the purists say, is to be used when the relationship involves three or more persons or things.

The purists are too pure. The Oxford English Dictionary and Fowler’s Modern English Usage have long warned that this supposed distinction between between and among is mere ‘superstition’.

According to OED, ‘between has been, from its earliest appearance [at least as far back as the year 931], extended to more than two’ – and ‘it is still the only [emphasis added] word to express the relation of a thing to many surrounding things severally and individually; among expresses a relation to them collectively and vaguely…’

One would therefore correctly say:

  • The space lying between the three trees
  • A treaty between three states
  • A difficult choice between three candidates
  • You are among friends
  • Among many choices, he took the easiest option
  • She is a keen tennis-player, among other things

In contractual drafting, however, you may be better off saying The agreement among X, Y and Z – if only to keep the (misguided) purists at bay.

As Ross Guberman observes in Deal Struck: The World’s Best Drafting Tips (2014), debating the point with the purists is probably ‘not constructive’.

And while we’re on the subject…

Never between you and I. Always between you and me.

Next: it could go either way

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)

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