April 10, 2008

Weekly Language Usage Tips: among/between, preventive/preventative

Posted in among/between, preventive/preventative at 9:18 pm by dlseltzer

In reviewing a proposal recently, I came across a sentence that reinforces the importance of using hyphens. (WLUT, February 21)

“…Specialists are available to stroke patients in emergency rooms at all times.”

What seems to be a strange custom is clarified with the simple use of a hyphen.

“…Specialists are available to stroke-patients in emergency rooms at all times.”

Tip 1: When to use “among” vs. “between”

The way I learned it, one uses “between” when talking about two things and “among” when there are more than two. But there is a clear and notable exception: “Between” is also used when describing a one-to-one or reciprocal relationship among more than two entities.

Example: “I need a mentor, and I have to choose between Dr. Clooney, Dr. Pitt, and Dr. Afleck.”
“An agreement was reached between Pitt, RAND, and CMU.”

Note that the entities, here, are particular individuals or things (Cloony, Pitt, and Afleck/Pitt, RAND, and CMU); the use of a plural or collective noun calls for the use of “among.”

Example: “I could not decide on a book among all the books in the library.”
“An agreement was reached among institutions in Western PA.”
“Among the children, there were two with pigtails.”

A few authorities have decided that these days, “between” may be used in any context with any number of things. I’m not buying it. The exception above is the one I would trust, and in other cases, I would follow the rule of two–if only because that is the rule that is most often viewed as correct.

Tip 2: “Preventive” or “preventative”?

The word “preventative” is often found in grant proposals and manuscripts. The preferred word is “preventive.” “Preventative” is considered a variant of “preventive,” but why use a variant when you can use the real deal? Let’s do away with “preventative” in our medical and other writing.


RE: Apostrophe after “s”

Once upon a time it was taught that one could make a singular noun ending in s (but not z) possessive by merely adding an apostrophe after the final s ­ Doris’ schedule ­ and that was actually the preferred form. Today, I think most people consider this rule obsolete, so that Doris’s schedule, as you say, is now considered the proper form.

RE: Amongst

As to Amongst, amidst, betwixt, whilst these are perfectly good British English but now sound very affected when used by Americans even in writing.


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