I would be grateful if anyone could shed light on the usage of "between" and "among". First, I'll report two views on the matter.
1) In school I was taught that you use "between" for two elements and"among" for more than two elements. That's it. This rule seems to be upheld by Collins Cobuild English Dictionary for Advanced Learners as well:

QUOTE
(Collins Cobuild English Dictionary for Advanced Learners - The whole entry is available here: http://xoomer.virgilio.it/fb83/collb.txt )

between
In addition to the uses shown below, between is used in a few phrasal verbs, such as `come between'.

1 betweenIf something is between two things or is in between them, it has one of the things on one side of it and the other thing on the other side.

2 betweenIf people or things travel between two places, they travel regularly from one place to the other and back again.

3 betweenA relationship, discussion, or difference between two people, groups, or things is one that involves them both or relates to them both.
UNQUOTE
Number two is stressed in the three definitions I've reported. Much the same is said in the Cambridge Dictionary for Advanced Learners:

QUOTE (http://dictionary.cambridge.org )
between (SPACE)
preposition, adverb

1 in or into the space which separates two places, people or objects:The town lies halfway between Rome and Florence.
Standing between the two adults was a small child. She squeezed between the parked cars and ran out into the road. A narrow path ran in between the two houses.
UNQUOTE
==
2) QUOTE ("Practical English Usage", Michael Swan, OUP=

*104 "between" and "among"*
1 the difference
We say that somebody or something is /between/ two or more clearly separate people or things. We use /among/ when somebody or something is in a group, a crowd or a mass of people or things which we do not see separately.
Compare:
- She was standing between Alice and Mary.
She was standing among a crowd of children.
- Our house is between* the woods, the river and the village. His house is hidden *among the trees.
/Between/ can be used to talk about intervals and time limits.

We need two metres between the windows.
I'll be back at the office between nine and eleven.

things on two sides: between
We use /between/ to say that there are things (or groups of things) on two sides.
a little valley between high mountains
I saw something between the wheels of the car.
* /divide/ and /share/ *
Before a series of singular nouns we usually /divide between/ and share between/. Before a plural noun, we can say /between/ or /among/. Compare:

He divided* his money *between* his wife, his daughter and his sister. I *shared* the food *between/among all my friends.

*4 /difference between/ *
We use /between/, not /among/, after /difference/.

What are the main differences between crows, rooks and jackdaws?

*5 'one of' etc
/Among/ can mean 'one of', 'some of' or 'included in'.

Among the first to arrive was the ambassador.
He has a number of criminals among his friends.
between each
Some people feel that expressions like /between each window/ or /between each birthday/ are incorrect. They prefer /between each ... and the next/.

We need two metres *between each window (and the next)*. There seems to be less and less time *between each birthday (and the next)*.
UNQUOTE
The same view is adopted by Thomson and Martinet.
QUOTE ("A Practical English Grammar", Thomson and Martinet, OUP)

between* and *among
between* normally relates a person/thing to two other people/things, *but it can be used of more when we have a definite number in mind:

"Luxembourg lies between Belgium, Germany and France".

among relates a person/thing to more than two others; normally we have no definite number in mind:
"He was happy to be among friends again."
"A village among the hills."
UNQUOTE
and the Oxford Dictionary for Advanced Learners:
QUOTE (http://www.oup.com/elt/oald /)
between
prep.

1 in or into the space separating two or more points, objects, people,etc: Q comes between P and R in the English alphabet. I sat down between Jo and Diana. Switzerland lies between France, Germany, Austria and Italy. The paper had fallen down between the desk and the wall. (figurative) My job is somewhere between a secretary and a personal assistant.

UNQUOTE
Fowler, too, criticized the superstition according to which "between" should be only used for two things:
QUOTE (http://www.eng-lang.co.uk/fowler.htm )

The OED gives a warning against the superstition that between can be used only of the relationship between two things, and that if there are more among is the right preposition. "In all senses between has been, from its earliest appearance, extended to more than two ... It is still the only word available to express the relation of a thing to many other things severally and individually; among expresses a relation to them collectively and vaguely: we should not say the space lying among the three points or a treaty among the three Powers." But the superstition dies hard.

UNQUOTE
I askef a friend of mine whether he would say "Paris is among London, Berlin and Madrid", and he answered:
QUOTE
Maybe something like:
It is among them in anyone's list of expensive places to live.

Hmm. Maybe not.
UNQUOTE
I'm already convinced that Swan, Thomson and Martinet, the OALD and Fowler are right, and that consequently Collins Dictionary and the CALD are wrong, or at least incomplete, but I still would like someone to say the ultimate word on "between" and "among", and why some dictionaries still maintain that "between" can't be used for more than two objects. Since linguists are native speakers, they probably say "Our house is between the woods, the river and the village", or "Switzerland lies between France, Germany, Austria and Italy", so why would they write something else?

Partly on another note, I asked on an Italian newsgroup about the difference between "among" and "amid", and I was told that "amid" carries a more physical meaning, and "among" a more abstract meaning. I was also supplied the following examples:
"I felt that I was among friends".
"I was standing amid my friends".
I wonder how you can understand whether "among" has an abstract meaning if you don't compare it with the same sentence with "amid". Would you use "amid" in order to make sure the reader infers that you mean "phisically among my friends". Does "amid" have any more implications? An Italian friend of mine was taught to use >.
Besides, according to what phonetical rules do you choose between "among" and "amongst", or "amid" and "amidst", or even "while" and "whilst", assuming you like to use both forms of each pair of words? I've read "amongst the" and "whilst Adam", so I presume it's common to use the form before "th" or vowels.
If you have read through this long post, remember that in Italy we say "that which doesn't kill you, fortifies you".
Bye, FB

Se dico "siedi!" manca l'oggetto.
Siedo chi? Lei o me?
(da it.cultura.linguistica.italiano)
1 2 3 4 5
or at least incomplete, but I still would like someone to say the ultimate word on "between" and "among",

Well, if you want the ultimate word on practically any usage issue, you've come to the right place. I'll give you an ultimate word, Charles will give you an ultimate word, Donna will give you a choice of ultimate words, Bob will give you an ultimate word, John Lawler will give you a really ultimate word, Clarence will give you several words but you may not be able to figure out which is the ultimate one, and Tony will talk about something else entirely.

It'll do you no good, mind.
The ultimate word on your particular question is that the OED is right, and some of the other dictionaries are wrong because they are put together by people who haven't consulted the ultimate authority, the users of the language.

Katy
I'm already convinced that Swan, Thomson and Martinet, the OALD and Fowler are right, and that consequently Collins Dictionary and ... river and the village", or "Switzerland lies between France, Germany, Austria and Italy", so why would they write something else?

I use "among" when I'm referring to a subset of set with more than two members, and "between" for a set of exactly two. As a special case, I use "between" when referring to inherently binary relations; thus, one can have a job of translating between three languages, but not among them.
As for linguists, there's a long tradition of prescriptivists making up rules that have no relation to real usage. Emotion: smile
Besides, according to what phonetical rules do you choose between "among" and "amongst", or "amid" and "amidst", or even "while" ... read "amongst the" and "whilst Adam", so I presume it's common to use the form before "th" or vowels.

I don't know anyone who uses both; AFAIK, the "-st" forms are British, and the bare forms American. (I can't speak to other varieties.)
If you have read through this long post, remember that in Italy we say "that which doesn't kill you, fortifies you".

I thought that was Nietzsche.

Aaron Davies
Opinions expressed are solely those of a random number generator. "I don't know if it's real or not but it is a myth." -Jami JoAnne of alt.folklore.urban, showing her grasp on reality.
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But it was a Greek who did the poison bit before there was an Italy or a Germany.
Well, if you want the ultimate word on practically any usage issue, you've come to the right place. I'll give ... may not be able to figure out which is the ultimate one, and Tony will talk about something else entirely.

However, if Tony is right, one can be sure that he's right.

Steny '08!
Since linguists are native speakers, they probably say "Our house ... Austria and Italy", so why would they write something else?

I use "among" when I'm referring to a subset of set with more than two members, and "between" for a ... referring to inherently binary relations; thus, one can have a job of translating between three languages, but not among them.

What about "Our house is between the woods, the river and the village", which does not appear among your special cases?
If you have read through this long post, remember that in Italy we say "that which doesn't kill you, fortifies you".

I thought that was Nietzsche.

You're prolly right. No, you're certainly right.
Bye, FB

Emily: "I'm going to Europe and I'm going to have a marvellous time. I'm going to get up at ten and have two glasses of wine at lunch every single day."
Richard: "Only prostitutes have two glasses of wine at lunch!" (Gilmore Girls, 501)
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If you have read through this long post, remember that in Italy we say "that which doesn't kill you, fortifies you".

Do Italians quoye Nietzsche often?
Friedrich Nietzsche, Götzen-Dämmerung , "Sprüche und Pfeile"
8. Aus der Kriegsschule des Lebens. - Was mich nicht umbringt, machtmich stärker.
If you have read through this long post, remember that in Italy we say "that which doesn't kill you, fortifies you".

Do Italians quoye Nietzsche often? Friedrich Nietzsche, Götzen-Dämmerung , "Sprüche und Pfeile" 8. Aus der Kriegsschule des Lebens. - Was mich nicht umbringt, macht mich stärker.

"What doesn't give me umbrage, makes me naked?"

Aaron Davies
Opinions expressed are solely those of a random number generator. "I don't know if it's real or not but it is a myth." -Jami JoAnne of alt.folklore.urban, showing her grasp on reality.
I use "among" when I'm referring to a subset of ... job of translating between three languages, but not among them.

What about "Our house is between the woods, the river and the village", which does not appear among your special cases?

I'm not entirely sure how I'd interpret that sentence. If the idea is that the woods, the river, and the village form a triangle, and the house is in the middle, as below, then yes, I might say that. If not, you'd have to tell me what it means.
(If this diagram doesn't make any sense, change your font to Courier.)

/\
e / \
g / \ W
a / \ o
l / \ o
l / House \ d
i / \ s
V / \
/ \
~~
River

Aaron Davies
Opinions expressed are solely those of a random number generator. "I don't know if it's real or not but it is a myth." -Jami JoAnne of alt.folklore.urban, showing her grasp on reality.
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