Sometimes, one word just feels better than another. It’s your gut speaking to you—and maybe there is logic connected to that instinct, but maybe not. It’s your gut, not your brain after all. So many of our language choices come this way. You don’t have to know English language grammar jargon to communicate well. (You know I’m a believer in that.) But then comes that curious moment when your brain interrupts your gut with a simple question: Why?
Why is that one word correct? Why does that one choice fit better in a certain situation?
There are many great language reference guides you can turn to when your gut and your brain clash in this moment of curiosity, but that “why” question struck me again recently. And I didn’t know the answer. So, I had to find out…
What’s up with the word “amongst”?
Is “among” the same as “amongst”?
Are they both still valid words?
Are “among” and “amongst” related to forms like “while” and “whilst” or “amid” and “amidst”?
And if so, what’s up with these spellings?
Here’s what I’ve discovered.
When it comes to “among” vs. “amongst,” “among” is actually the older word. (Surprised? I’m guessing I wasn’t alone to assume the opposite.) It’s been used as far back as the time of Old English—before the 12th century—coming from a combination of “on” and gemonge, a word pairing which together meant “in a crowd.”
“Amongst” was first used in Middle English, during a time period where “s,” “es,” and similar sounds were added onto words to make them adverbs or otherwise change their role. Yes, this is also where “whilst” and “amidst” come from but also other words that don’t seem so old-fashioned today, such as “once” and “always.”
Long story short, though, “among” and “amongst” have both been used for a long time. They even battled it out for popularity for a while, but today “among” is the clear winner. It largely has been since before the year 1700:
But “amongst” is not dead. It still pops up from time to time, especially when you move away from American English.
Because both “among” and “amongst” have the same definition, you might argue that they could be used interchangeably; however, “among” is largely the standard. It probably should be your go-to word choice.
Maybe I’m a grammar rebel, though. For some reason, I have a soft spot in my language-loving heart for “amongst.” I’m not predicting its revival, but I think the Middle English form has some major staying power that’s not quite ready to quit.
That’s the feeling in my gut anyway. And I like trusting my gut when it comes to language use. How about you?
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