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Style Issues: Among vs. Amongst

Crumbly Writer

Just ran across this, and wondered, which is right? I'd never run across it before, so I didn't have any style preference, and a quick look through my current story found I mostly used among, but hardly exclusively.

Went looking, and found there really IS no preference. "Among" is not only the most popular (by almost 10 to 1), it's also the older of the two, by almost 500 years).

Looking further, I discovered that I mostly fell into an older pattern, of using "amongst" with words that begin with a vowel (ex: "among friends" but "amongst ourselves"), but this usage has mostly been abandoned quite some time ago.

Given that, I decided the best bet was to simply pick the most dominant & original usage, and stick to that. So now I'll be watching.

So which does everyone use, "among" or "amongst", and why? If, like me, you aren't consistent, then which patterns do you tend to fall into?

It just shows, when you create your own Style Guides, you're always having to update them whenever you find little buggers like these that defy you 'Style consistency' guidelines.

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Switch Blayde

@Crumbly Writer

I don't think I ever used "amongst." That sounds like BrEnglish to me.

PrincelyGuy

It most likely is a matter of style, preference and the audience. However, sometimes, amongst all of the possibilities, one will sound better than all of the others. Or is that among all of the possibilities?

sejintenej

@Switch Blayde

CW might have found that "amongst" is younger but I haven't used it in half a century and hearing it has been almost as rare.
"Among" is considerably easier to say than "amongst" - the g followed by "ssss" sound is awkward

Ernest Bywater

Amongst is more common with the older people and the UK people than it is with the US, while among is more common in the US. As you say, it's a style issue and I tend to use among but will use amongst on the odd occasion - I tend to go with what sounds right in the sentence.

richardshagrin

@Switch Blayde

amongst

Maybe Among St. (St. would be street, abreviated.)

Replies:   red61544
red61544

@richardshagrin

Among St.

Or it could refer to the famous Saint Among who traveled amongst the hmong tribes healing both the natives and the mongols who had invaded their lands.

Crumbly Writer

@Ernest Bywater

Amongst is more common with the older people and the UK people than it is with the US, while among is more common in the US. As you say, it's a style issue and I tend to use among but will use amongst on the odd occasion - I tend to go with what sounds right in the sentence.

You conclusions make sense, my main point is, you need to watch for bugagoos like this which, without using a formalized Style Guide, leaves you clueless that it's even an issue.

Although I have used amongst for a long time, at most, I use it maybe 1 - 4 times per (20+ chapter) books. Knowing to look for it, I'm now better equipped to notice when I unintentionally use it (like preceding words beginning with a vowel).

Replies:   Switch Blayde
awnlee jawking

@Ernest Bywater

Although the 'st' version is more popular in British English, there's also an element of the superlative about the 'st' versions of eg
amid/amidst
among/amongst
again(disused)/against
etc.

So if you wrote 'you are among friends' then there is less emphasis on the preposition than if you wrote 'you are amongst friends'.

Personally I'm like you - I use what I think sounds best for the context. If the emphasis plays any part, it's not deliberate on my part.

AJ

Switch Blayde

@Crumbly Writer

without using a formalized Style Guide


Is it really a style issue? Why can't you use both in the same story? As Ernest said, whichever sounds better in the sentence.

I run into that with "spelled" and "spelt."

PrincelyGuy

Tongue firmly in cheek...

You have to be careful with some readers. Consider smelled and smelt. Some people will immediately think you are talking about fish by using the second variety. Or that you used a smelter to refine ore.

Okay. Back to my usual habit of lurking in the shadows.

robberhands

... the usual disclaimer.

Ross at Play

I write in BrE. I use both among and amongst almost interchangeably. I tend to prefer one or the other in different situations - but I could not define those situations. The same applies to some other words with an -st variation, and another small group of words with an -s variation, for example, toward and towards.

OTOH, if I was editing for someone who used AmE, I would change every instance with an added -st or -s to the correct American spelling of those words.

awnlee jawking

@robberhands

OTOH, if I was editing for someone who used AmE, I would change every instance with an added -st or -s to the correct American spelling of those words.


That approach is fraught with problems. Take the phrase 'backwards and forwards' - there's no equivalent 'backward and forward' in USA English.

I think it would be better to let American authors make their own choices, just as you do yourself.

AJ

Replies:   robberhands
robberhands
Updated:

@awnlee jawking


'backwards and forwards'


That phrase I know as 'backward and forward', or 'to and fro', or 'back and forth'.

Replies:   awnlee jawking
sejintenej

@robberhands

for example, toward and towards.

I think that this concept has to be personal preference and more, how you were brought up and this could perhaps explain the pond divide.

awnlee jawking

@robberhands

That phrase I know as 'backward and forward'


Interesting. My dictionary doesn't list that as an alternative despite generally listing USA equivalents.

SOL search found 102 pages with 'backward and forward' and 460 with 'backwards and forwards' so the latter is more popular, even in the USA. But my claim that 'backward and forward' doesn't exist was wrong :(

AJ

robberhands

... the usual disclaimer.

Ross at Play

@Awnlee Jawking

Take the phrase 'backwards and forwards' - there's no equivalent 'backward and forward' in USA English.

NOPE!

According to ngrams they've been neck-and-neck in AmE since about 1860, but with the -s endings has always much more common in BrE.

... better to let American authors make their own choices ...

They ALWAYS make their own choices!

They ask my opinions for what would I do if writing in AmE.

I tell them my opinions; they make the final decision.

I know that. They know I know that. I know they know I know that ... (proceed as per famous comedy sketch from the Hancock Half Hour).

Crumbly Writer

I must say, I'm a little surprised by the responses here. I'd thought, at least, that Switch would favor my 'style consistency' argument, but not a single person seems to be holding that position here. The consensus seems to be 'use whichever you feel like, even if there's absolutely no justification for your position'.

In other words, forget about selecting any position which is coherent and follows larger trends (like that "amongst" isn't as widely used), just do whatever worms the cockles of your heart and everything else be damned.

That's the approach I had been using, and it seemed clearly wrong. But now I'm standing off in left field, all by myself after my team has left the field.

JohnBobMead

@Crumbly Writer

But now I'm standing off in left field, all by myself after my team has left the field.


Sounds just a bit like Charlie Brown.

Switch Blayde

@robberhands

toward and towards.


"Toward" is AmE. "Towards" is BrE. During my editing, I'm constantly changing "towards" to "toward."

I believe that's true for words like backward/backwards too.

Switch Blayde
Updated:

@Crumbly Writer


even if there's absolutely no justification for your position'.


The justification is what sounds better in the sentence as Ernest said. If the words can be used interchangeably, then choose the one that sounds better.

As to toward/towards, that requires consistency throughout the story because one is BrE and one AmE.

But "in your lap" vs "on your lap" is not a rule. It's a feeling. So at one point in your story you can say "in" and in another part say "on."

Dominions Son

@Switch Blayde

I believe that's true for words like backward/backwards too.


I'm American, born and raised in Wisconsin. I know plenty of people here that use both backward and backwards.

Replies:   richardshagrin
robberhands

... the usual disclainer.

Ross at Play

@ Dominions Son

I'm American, born and raised in Wisconsin. I know plenty of people here that use both backward and backwards.

That makes you, and those around you, about 30% Canuck by my estimation. No wonder y'all sound so much like damn Limeys.

Replies:   sejintenej
awnlee jawking

@Switch Blayde

I believe that's true for words like backward/backwards too.


And yet SOL clearly reveals a preference for 'backwards and forwards' despite the preponderance of USA authors.

I'm not convinced. I think the version of English is less important than what people think feels right in the context.

AJ

Replies:   Switch Blayde
richardshagrin
Updated:

@Dominions Son



I'm American, born and raised in Wisconsin. I know plenty of people here that use both backward and backwards.




I spent several painful months in Toma, Wisconsin when I was in Second Grade. Many residents there were backward. My teacher had a spelling contest between girls and boys. As one would expect at that age, girls were much better spellers. But she tried to get the boys, who as a team lost, to pay a penalty, of wearing girl's clothing to school. Dresses. I refused. Amongst many reasons she didn't like me.

I don't know why this paragraph decided to be in bold print. I didn't mean to shout.

awnlee jawking

@richardshagrin

In the UK, more and more snowflake head teachers are imposing gender-neutral (ie male) uniforms in case of the unlikely event that one of their pupils decides to be transgender.

Your teacher was ahead of the curve. If you wore girls' dresses to school you'd become better spellers ;)

AJ

Switch Blayde

@awnlee jawking

And yet SOL clearly reveals a preference for 'backwards and forwards' despite the preponderance of USA authors.


When editing, I always change "towards" to "toward." But I don't believe I do that with "backwards." I remember thinking about it and determining "backwards" sounds better.

Replies:   awnlee jawking
Switch Blayde

@richardshagrin

Amongst many reasons


Did you realize you used "amongst"?

Replies:   awnlee jawking
awnlee jawking

@Switch Blayde

Did you realize you used "amongst"?


A secret Brit? Or perhaps a follower of the 'emphasis' theory.

AJ

awnlee jawking

@Switch Blayde

I wonder whether it's a phenomenon similar to 'order of adjectives', where most people instinctively follow some little-understood rule.

AJ

Dominions Son

@richardshagrin

I spent several painful months in Toma, Wisconsin when I was in Second Grade. Many residents there were backward.


Toma, is too close to the small soft drink state.

sejintenej

@robberhands


That makes you, and those around you, about 30% Canuck by my estimation. No wonder y'all sound so much like damn Limeys.

No way do Canadians sound like British - they sound like merkins.

As for the expression "Limey" that was an expression of respect for a people who stopped their sailors getting scurvy.

sejintenej

@Switch Blayde

But "in your lap" vs "on your lap" is not a rule. It's a feeling. So at one point in your story you can say "in" and in another part say "on."

This came up in another thread. "In" implies surrounding barriers of some type, a room for example, whilst "on" suggests a (semi) flat surface. Thus a child can sit ON a lap but when a problem is thrown at you it goes to every part of your physical body hence it is "in" your lap. QED

Replies:   awnlee jawking
awnlee jawking

@sejintenej

But when you procrastinate about looking into that problem, you're sitting on it ;)

AJ

Crumbly Writer

@Switch Blayde

The justification is what sounds better in the sentence as Ernest said. If the words can be used interchangeably, then choose the one that sounds better.

As to toward/towards, that requires consistency throughout the story because one is BrE and one AmE.

But "in your lap" vs "on your lap" is not a rule. It's a feeling. So at one point in your story you can say "in" and in another part say "on."

When I went back and reviewed my most recent stories, I found some consistent uses (such as using "amongst" preceding words starting with vowel sounds) but also inconsistency (using "amongst" when there wasn't any apparent reason for doing so.

awnlee jawking

@Switch Blayde

As to toward/towards, that requires consistency throughout the story because one is BrE and one AmE.


I've just realised that, when used as an adjective meaning 'bold', I would always use 'forward' rather than forwards, despite my preference for 'backwards and forwards'.

AJ

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@awnlee jawking

I've just realised that, when used as an adjective meaning 'bold', I would always use 'forward' rather than forwards, despite my preference for 'backwards and forwards'.

What you're describing is "forward" as an adverb, rather than an adjective. Only the adjective form uses the "s" suffix version, the adverb doesn't support that usage. The same is true with the noun and verb forms, as you'd never have a football player serving as a "forwards".

robberhands

@Crumbly Writer

I thought a forward plays basketball and there are usually two of them on each team, which means they're forwards.

Replies:   awnlee jawking
awnlee jawking

@Crumbly Writer

What you're describing is "forward" as an adverb


Nope, it's definitely an adjective.

Eg "You're very forward for a lowly servant."

AJ

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
awnlee jawking

@robberhands

The England midfielders are backwards rather than forwards because of the direction they pass the ball.

AJ

Replies:   robberhands
Switch Blayde

@Crumbly Writer

What you're describing is "forward" as an adverb, rather than an adjective.


The forward man put his hand up her skirt.

-adjective-

robberhands

@awnlee jawking

The England midfielders are backwards rather than forwards because of the direction they pass the ball.

I didn't even know they are able to give a ball a distinct direction.

Crumbly Writer

@awnlee jawking

Nope, it's definitely an adjective.

Eg "You're very forward for a lowly servant."

Sorry, got that backwards going back and forth between the dictionary listing. "Forwards" and "Backwards" are only used in the abverbal form of the word, whereas the adjective form doesn't use the "s" suffix form.

BlacKnight

My feeling is that "among" and "amongst" have subtly different connotations. I hadn't consciously thought about it before, but on reviewing some of my writing, the distinction I seem to draw with them is that if something or someone is in the middle of or included in other people or things, it's "among" them. If they are additionally interacting with each other, it's "amongst".

So, for example, it's, "Among other things...", and I wouldn't say, "Amongst other things...", but on the other hand, "Fighting amongst themselves," and I wouldn't say, "Fighting among themselves."

I'm American, and I tend to use "backwards" and "forwards". I'm not sure if that's regional dialect, or if it's specific to me. My vocabulary and usage are shaped more by my reading habits - which includes a number of British authors - than by the actual speech of people around me.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@BlacKnight

I'm American, and I tend to use "backwards" and "forwards". I'm not sure if that's regional dialect, or if it's specific to me. My vocabulary and usage are shaped more by my reading habits - which includes a number of British authors - than by the actual speech of people around me.

That's a sensible distinction between "among" and "amongst". As for "backward/s" and "foreward/s", the distinction, as much as I can figure, aside from being more 'pretentious', is that the -s form conveys movement. Thus you throw "backwards", you move "forewards", but someone who's slow is "backward" and directions (non-moving instructions) would be "Move that damn cow back, you hack!"

As I previously noted, I also tend to use "amongst" with words starting with vowels, which seems to be a semi-official usage as it's listed in several etomolgy listings.

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Switch Blayde

@Crumbly Writer

As for "backward/s" and "foreward/s", the distinction, as much as I can figure, aside from being more 'pretentious', is that the -s form conveys movement.


According to Grammar Girl: https://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/backward-versus-backwards

Both backward and backwards are correct, but most sources say that when you're using the word as an adverb, backward is standard in American English and backwards is standard in British English.

If you choose to use backwards in the United States, it's not wrong, but it may look a little weird to people. It's like spelling colour with a u; it draws attention to itself and could be distracting for American readers.


I believe it's the same logic for toward/s and forward/s.

Replies:   awnlee jawking
awnlee jawking

@Switch Blayde

Another thought on adjectival forms: "I skimmed through the accounts but didn't spot anything untoward."

Again no 's', but does 'untoward' have an antonym or is it consigned to the scrapheap of history like 'gruntled' and 'combobulated'? ;)

AJ

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@awnlee jawking

Again no 's', but does 'untoward' have an antonym or is it consigned to the scrapheap of history like 'gruntled' and 'combobulated'?

'Combobulated' got discombobulated! And I'm very disgruntled over the shabby treatment that 'gruntled' received by history.

By the way, I think "Gruntled" would make a wonderful title for a book. The title certainly stops people in their tracks.

samuelmichaels

@Crumbly Writer

'Combobulated' got discombobulated! And I'm very disgruntled over the shabby treatment that 'gruntled' received by history.

By the way, I think "Gruntled" would make a wonderful title for a book. The title certainly stops people in their tracks.

That would be very couth!

Replies:   BlacKnight
awnlee jawking

@Crumbly Writer

'Grunt Led', a story of how an army ranger team performed incredible feats of derring-do behind enemy lines once freed from the control of ass-hats ;)

AJ

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
BlacKnight

@samuelmichaels

That would be very couth!

The non-negated root of "uncouth" actually survives (if only barely), but it's spelled "kith".

They both come from Old English cuða, meaning an acquaintance or relative, or, with un-, a stranger or foreigner. As an adjective, it meant "friendly and familiar", like your family and neighbors, or, with un-, "strange and rude", like the habits of uncuðan.

Over the last thousand years, the spellings and pronunciations have drifted apart, and we've lost the noun form of one and the adjective form of the other (and almost the noun form too... I don't think I've ever seen it used outside the phrase "kith and kin", and even that not very often).

Switch Blayde

@BlacKnight

but it's spelled "kith"


I've only heard it said by a girl with a lisp. "Kith me."

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
awnlee jawking

@BlacKnight

The non-negated root of "uncouth" actually survives (if only barely), but it's spelled "kith".


According to the dictionary next to my desk, one of the Oxford clan, 'couth' exists and means 'refined and well-mannered'.

AJ

Crumbly Writer

@awnlee jawking

'Grunt Led', a story of how an army ranger team performed incredible feats of derring-do behind enemy lines once freed from the control of ass-hats ;)

Or the sequel, 'Grunted Ed', who was very pleased to not have been involved with his brother's actions.

Crumbly Writer

@Switch Blayde

I don't think I've ever seen it used outside the phrase "kith and kin", and even that not very often

Whenever I hear the term 'kith and kin', I always imagine cooking my misbehaving kids. Whatever else, it always brings a smile to my lips imagining it!

Crumbly Writer

@awnlee jawking

According to the dictionary next to my desk, one of the Oxford clan, 'couth' exists and means 'refined and well-mannered'.

Still, if we only go by the Sound of the word, all I can picture is someone spitting while shouting: "A Couth on your! A couth, a couth!" That usage paints a very different, uncouth image of the word 'couth'.

sejintenej

@awnlee jawking

According to the dictionary next to my desk, one of the Oxford clan, 'couth' exists and means 'refined and well-mannered'.

Certainly it exists and is still used but in a negative manner such as "he has no couth". It is simply a positive way of saying that he is uncouth.

I have from time to time said that "he is couthless" though I suspect that that is not in your Oxford phrontistery.

Zom
Updated:

@BlacKnight


but it's spelled "kith"


couth

kuːθ/

humorous

adjective: couth

1. cultured, refined, and well mannered.

noun: couth

1. good manners; refinement.

-----

Have often heard usages like "it is good to be couth".

Merriam-Webster gives a usage example as "Although they disagreed with the speaker, they were couth enough to listen to him respectfully."

Although Oxford does say the 'couth' is a 19th Century back-formation from 'uncouth', it is still a word in use.

sejintenej

Merriam-Webster gives a usage example as "Although they disagreed with the speaker, they were couth enough to listen to him respectfully."

A respected source but I would not use couth in this way. I would use "respectful" or "polite". Perhaps that is the BritE coming out

BlacKnight

@awnlee jawking

According to the dictionary next to my desk, one of the Oxford clan, 'couth' exists and means 'refined and well-mannered'.


Perhaps, but I've never seen it used except in a joking, "I'm using a word that should exist but doesn't," context... which you may note is the context of the post I was replying to.

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