Trimming the Fat

I found a nifty little thing today. Ever noticed how in English the word “between” is used when you’re referring to two persons or objects, but you up and switch to “among” when the number hits three or more?

Well, this is not always the case. More strictly,”between” is used when describing the relationship between X and Y, if X is a thing surrounded by Y, which is a group of things taken individually/distinctly. E.g. fixed options:

  • The choice was between Maths, Chemistry and Science.

Whereas “among” is used when Y is taken collectively, in a vaguer sense:

  • Swimming among fishes is pleasant

“Fishes” here is just the type of the surrounding things (vague collective). Quite like the kind of word that appears after “da” in Esperanto (see here if you’re interested in knowing about “da” from a post of mine!)

Even this does not describe all the nuances some like to place on the differences between “between” and “among”, but the point is, the difference is almost always obvious in our description of Y, so why must the preposition (“between” or “among”) express this difference also?

Esperanto’s approach therefore is to use a single word “inter” for both!

So if you had these sentences:

  1. She works between a tall man and a short man.
  2. She works among many men.

The word “inter” would be used for both “between” and “among”.

In those few situations, if they exist, where the same sentence in English with one of “between” or “among” substituted for the other produces another useful, logical sentence with a distinct meaning, Esperanto would simply use an additional helper word to clarify the difference. This seems like a much more sensible approach!

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3 thoughts on “Trimming the Fat

  1. “Ever noticed how in English the word “between” is used when you’re referring to two persons or objects, but you up and switch to “among” when the number hits three or more?”

    Actually, this is not quite true. “Between” is used to express the relation of a thing to many surrounding things severally and individually, while “among” expresses a relation to them collectively and vaguely

    • I guess this was a quick and dirty observation, rather than discussing the exact relationship between “between” and “among”. It wasn’t meant as a statement of the difference between them. I’m certainly not denying that you can use “between” to talk about more than two options! 😀

      I suppose my only justification is that I wanted to show that “inter” refers to them both, so never search for a different word when you would use one in English, but perhaps a little more precision would clarify that there is no situation in which one wouldn’t use “inter” to take the place of either “between” or “among”.

      Well spotted! I will edit this in.

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