Certain prepositions like from, out of and among may be used interchangeable in certain contexts, in this comparison with all essentially meaning chosen from a group. For example, these three sentences essentially mean the same thing:
- I had to choose which I liked best from ten ice creams.
- I had to choose which I liked best out of ten ice creams.
- I had to choose which I liked best among ten ice creams.
In this case, it easy to understand that choice was from among a group of ice creams, whichever preposition you use. However, each preposition has its own nuances, and has slightly different meanings – differences that have no effect in some contexts, but make a sentence wrong in others.
When to use ‘from’, ‘out of’ or ‘among’
These three prepositions have roots, clearer in other uses, that help highlight their differences.
- I took a book from the library. – away from / to another location
- I took a picture out of the book. – out and away (from inside to out, as opposed to simply away)
- I took a picture among the pigeons. – within the pigeons, connected to the group
These three meanings can carry to sentences where the prepositions appear to be interchangeable, such as above with the ice cream – from and out of essentially elevating one ice cream above the others (removing it from the group), while among focuses more on the selection within the group, rather than which is best. Consider:
- I like him best from all my friends.
- I like him best out of all my friends.
- I like him best among my friends.
From and out of make this best friend sound more important, elevating him above the other friends. Out of is the strongest, its idea of out and away separating the best friend from the others, making him noteworthy. Among, however, focuses on the group – he is the best among the friends, which makes him special within that group, not necessarily singling him out separate to them. It’s a subtle point, and one that is rarely going to cause any problems – but if you notice incidents where people think one preposition is better than another, when they seem interchangeable, these are the subtleties responsible!
‘From’, ‘out of’ and ‘among’ Exercise
In the following sentences, fill the gap with ‘from’, ‘out of’ or ‘among’. In some cases there are multiple possible answers.
- I swam _____ the sharks.
- I drove the car _____ the garage.
- I took a bus _____ London to Paris.
- We freed the prisoners _____ the island.
- She slept _____ the weeds.
- Rupert jumped _____ the burning building.
- I chose _____ two different colours.
- Geraldine was not sure who _____ her friends to trust.
- The dog stole _____ the butcher’s.
- He selected the best parrot _____ the bunch.
These are the answers that would sound most natural to me, though I’ve highlighted where other possibilities are also acceptable:
- I swam among the sharks. (within their group, you might swim from (away) to escape!)
- I drove the car out of the garage. (from would suggest possession here)
- I took a bus from London to Paris. (out of would highlight leaving, not the journey)
- We freed the prisoners from the island. (they were not within an island, so out of would sound strange)
- She slept among the weeds.
- Rupert jumped out of the burning building. (from works too)
- I chose it from two different colours.
- Geraldine was not sure who among her friends to trust. (out of and from also work here, but among focuses on the dilemma within the group)
- The dog stole from the butcher’s.
- He selected the best parrot out of the bunch. (out of makes it sound more special than from)