Comic by Leigh Rubin.
This month …
-‘Between’ or ‘among’ – which to choose
-When not to use a hyphen
Between vs. Among – Which to Choose
You may recall being taught that ‘between’ is used in sentences where two things are separated, while ‘among’ refers to something within a larger group. But there is more to consider. It’s not just about two things versus more than two, but about whether the things or people are separate and distinct, or part of a group.
Also, while ‘between’ usually refers to two separated things or people, it can refer to more than two, as in “The chef had to choose between turmeric, paprika and cumin.” If you were talking about those things collectively you could say, “The chef chose from among the spices on the shelf.”
In sentences referring to one-on-one relationships, you would use ‘between,’ as in “Let’s keep this between us.” If you’re talking about relationships involving more than two distinct things of the same or different types you would also use ‘between,’ as in “She was choosing between skydiving, waterskiing and wakeboarding.” The key thing to consider is whether the things referred to are separate and distinct.
Speaking of relationships, ‘among’ is used when you want to indicate something/someone is either part of, or left out of a group. For example, “She knew she was among friends.” ‘Among’ is used to refer to things that are part of a group or mass of objects, but aren’t clearly separated. Also, ‘among’ or ‘between’ can indicate location, as in “She walked between the hills” as opposed to “She walked among the hills.”
When Not To Use a Hyphen
Hyphens connect words, prefixes and suffixes permanently or temporarily. They are typically used to avoid ambiguity, as in this classic example where a hyphen shows the difference between a “man-eating shark” and a “man eating shark”.
The most common errors in hyphen usage are related to prefixes. Who hasn’t seen “co-author,” “non-compliant,” “contra-indicated” or “pro-active?” All are technically incorrect, since none of these words requires a hyphen. Here are more common prefixes that do not join words with hyphens:
In practice, many people use hyphens with prefixes like ‘pro,’ ‘trans,’ ‘mid’ and ‘contra’ simply because the words may ‘read’ better or the meaning might appear to be clearer. These uses are simply not ‘technically’ correct.
Here are some pairs of words, from The New American Dictionary of Difficult Words, which are often mistaken for each other or are used incorrectly:
Libel/Slander – Both legal terms refer to disparaging someone’s public image. The key difference: ‘libel’ refers to written, published material that defames and damages another’s reputation, while ‘slander’ is an oral statement that does the same. For example:
“The magazine was charged with libel.”
“What he overheard at the party amounted to slander.”
Loath/Loathe – If you remember that ‘loath’ is an adjective, while ’loathe’ is a verb, you’ll be less likely to confuse them. The adjective ‘loath’ means unwilling, as in, “I’m loath to return to that place.” The verb ‘loathe’ means despise or hate, as in “I loathe the bureaucracy of that organization.”
Luxuriant/Luxurious – ‘Luxuriant’ means abundant, characterized by rich or profuse growth, as in “A luxuriant hedge surrounds the pool,” or “He has a luxuriant mane of hair.” ‘Luxurious’ can mean easy and comfortable, expensive and high quality, or self-indulgent, as in “She spent a luxurious hour at the spa.”