It is often taught that “between” is used for 2 items and “among” for 3 or more.
But this is not completely accurate. The more accurate difference is this:
- Between is used when naming distinct, individual items (can be 2, 3, or more)
- Among is used when the items are part of a group, or are not specifically named (MUST be 3 or more)
This example will help illustrate the difference:
The negotiations between Nigeria, Ghana and Togo are going well.
The negotiations among the countries of West Africa are going well.
Of course, these sentences are not equivalent (because there are more countries in West Africa than just Nigeria, Ghana and Togo) but they illustrate the rule – you CAN use between with 3 individual items, and you must use among when talking about a general group (in which no specific countries are named).
Here’s another example that is more exact:
I’m trying to decide between the green shirt, the blue shirt, and the black shirt.
I’m trying to decide among these shirts.
These sentences are the same – but in the first sentence, we specifically name each of the three options (the green shirt, the blue shirt, and the black shirt) – so we use the word between. In the second sentence, we treat the items as part of a group (“these shirts”) so we use the word among.
“Between you and I” or “Between you and me”?
The correct phrase is “between you and me” – never “between you and I” – this is something that many people confuse!
This expression is used when you want the other person to keep some information a secret, for example:
Between you and me, I think John got fired because he’s completely incompetent.
This means you don’t want the other person to tell anyone else your opinion about John’s lack of abilities.