What Is The Difference Between “Amid” vs. “Amidst”?

There’s amid. Then there’s amidst. Can they be used in the same way or are there important differences between them? Is one considered more correct?

Hey, we get it. The English language is hard! But amid this jumble of words and amidst that mess of meaning, we’re here to help clear things up.

What does amid mean?

Amid is a preposition, a type of word that shows—to put it very simplistically—certain kinds of relationships between other words.

Amid has two main meanings. The first is “in the middle of; surrounded by; among.” For example:

  • John looked for his friend amid the crowd.
  • Mary built a cabin amid the pine trees.

This first sense of amid generally expresses a kind of physical relationship.

The second meaning of amid is “during, in or throughout the course of.” For instance:

  • We welcomed her optimism amid the crisis.
  • Roosevelt took office amid the Great Depression.
  • The couple checked in on their elderly parents amid reports a huge blizzard was coming their way.

This second sense of amid can show a relationship between things in time or convey the idea that something is taking place against the backdrop or background of something else.

What does amidst mean?

Amidst means the same thing as amid. They are one and the same. You can substitute amidst for amid in all of the above examples and not change the meaning of the sentences. Consider:

  • John looked for his friend amidst the crowd.
  • Roosevelt took office amidst the Great Depression.

Both amidst and amid are correct. It’s just that amid is far more common than amidst in both American and British English. In fact, data indicate that—contrary to popular notions—amidst is found slightly more often in American English than British English.

Why do we have two words for the same thing, anyways? Because English. Because language.

Amid is recorded before 1000. It develops from the Old English on middan, “in (the) middle.” This became amidde in Middle English, and then amid today.

Amidst isn’t recorded until around 1250–1300. It develops from the Middle English amiddes. Without going too far into the grammatical weeds, the –s in amiddes represents a suffix English once used to form adverbs. This –s was added to the same amidde that became amid, and survives in always as well some less common adverbs, such as unawares.

So, where did the –t in amidst come from? OK, taking notes? that –t is called a parasitic or excrescentt, which are fancy terms used in phonetics to describe a sound inserted as a result of how we (usually find it easy to) pronounce another sound, not because the added sound has any historical or grammatical reason. Against, amongst, and whilst are other words featuring an excrescent –t. Still taking notes?

Now, why do some people say amidst instead of amid? That may be due to personal preference, perhaps as motivated by what someone thinks sounds better in certain circumstances. It’s possible others think or have been taught amidst is correct, maybe because it’s believed amidst is standard in British English and, by cultural associations, that makes it more sophisticated or correct.

Among vs. amid

Speaking of amongst, which is a variant of among chiefly found in British English, what is the difference between amid and among?

Among is also a preposition. It has more senses than amid. However, one of the main meanings of among, “in, into, or through the midst of; in association or connection with; surrounded by,” overlaps with amid.

In some situations, you can swap out amid for among. Here’s one case where both amid and among are correct:

  • Mary built a cabin amid the pine trees.
  • Mary built a cabin among the pine trees.

There are many more situations where you cannot substitute among for amid. We cannot meaningfully say, for example, Roosevelt took office among the Great Depression. Nor can we say Exercise is amid the things we should do to stay healthy; among is required here. But hey, if you slip up, that’s OK! You’re among friends here.

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