Learn English – Between each/every (logic analysis)


1) How to add space between every word when typing into Word?

2) There is a marked line between each person in this row.

I believe usages of 'between each/every' in the contexts above are nothing out of the ordinary. But the logic behind it has always struck me as odd. 'Between', by definition, should logically be followed by a binary phrase (involving two entities). Yet, there doesn't seem to be a clearer way to express those two example sentences without shifting the focus: I could say 'between every two persons' in the second example but that would clearly lead to some confusion.

So is this just a case of idiomatic dictation, or are there better ways to phrase these example sentences? Many thanks in advance.

Best Answer

Just saying “between each letter” raises the question of between each letter and what other thing? Between always involves more than one thing.

What you mean here is clear enough to most readers, but perhaps it would be more felicitous to write “between each pair of letters” — or more simply, just “between letters”.

Either of those work to provide between with more than one argument. However, don’t worry about the arguments provided being exactly two; they don’t necessarily need to be. That’s a myth. It is a fallacy to assume that between has only two entities. It simply is not true.

Quoth the OED:

In all senses, between has been, from its earliest appearance, extended to more than two.

Only the case-of-one doesn’t make any sense:

  1. *Between your mother, they’ll come up with something.
  2. Between your mom and dad, they’ll come up with something.
  3. Between the three of us, we’ll come up with something.

All the other cases — including all your nieces and nephews and cousins and aunts and uncles — are all of them just fine.