Posted by: Jack Henry | October 7, 2021

Editor’s Corner: Amongst, Amidst, and Whilst

Dear Editrix,

Are there ever any good reasons to use words like “whilst” or “amongst?” I consider such words archaic and would avoid their use, but I see them in current writings by educated people.

Dearest Reader,

My response to you was going to be, “Yes, I agree. They sound a bit old and stuffy for today.” But then I decided I didn’t really know much about these words, so I thought I should look a little deeper into these three pairs:

  • Among/amongst
  • Amid/amidst
  • While/whilst

Writer and teacher Brian Wasko begins his article about these couplets with the question: Which do you prefer? The following are selected tidbits from his answer that might help you decide if you want to avoid them or start sprinkling your speech with them.

Let’s be clear: this is a matter of preference, not correctness. Amongst is a legitimate and commonly used alternative to among. And the same goes for amidst and whilst.

These -st forms come across as old-fashioned to many—mostly American—ears. They have a King James/Shakespearean ring to them. But according to the OED blog, among and while are older than amongst and whilst, which were formed during the Middle Ages….You may consider them outdated, but it’s not legitimate to dismiss amongst, amidst, and whilst as archaic, both because among, amid, and while are actually older forms, and because all three are still in common popular use….

In terms of dictionary definition, there is no difference between among and amongst, amid and amidst, or while and whilst. They are interchangeable. On both sides of the Atlantic, the truncated versions are more common, but you are much more likely to hear amongst, amidst, and whilst in the United Kingdom than in the States….

This doesn’t stop people from feeling strongly one way or the other, of course. Some insist that the -st versions are outmoded, pointless, and/or pretentious and should always be replaced by their shorter contemporary forms. Others argue that amongst, amidst, and whilst are more elegant, trip easier off the tongue, or are subtly distinct in meaning and should be preserved.

Amidst the noise and flying fur, I will sit amongst my dogs whilst you consider which you prefer.

Kara Church

Pronouns: she/her/hers

Technical Editor, Advisory

Editor’s Corner Archives:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: