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Which one is preferred and why?

Due to less complications and minimal cut on the skin, the pinhole (endoscopic) surgery is popular among surgeons all over the world.

Due to less complications and minimal cut on the skin, the pinhole (endoscopic) surgery is popular with surgeons all over the world.

I asked to a learned person in English. She suggested -Use among when you restrict it to a few surgeons (may be from one corporate hospital) but when you use it for all the surgeons on this planet, use with.

Having said that,

The stay in hospital reduces when a patient is operated with a pinhole (endoscopic) surgery. This reduces the bill of the hospital and hence, in this town of poor people, this procedure is popular among surgeons.

Due to less complications and minimal cut on the skin, pinhole (endoscopic) surgery is popular with surgeons all over the world.

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    My intuition is that with is more modern and more appropriate in informal contexts, while among is more traditional and appropriate in formal contexts. (I've made no attempt to check if my intuition is correct.) – snailboat Dec 2 '13 at 7:39
  • @snailboat - I just examined a few dictionaries and looked at their definitions of with and among. While either word could be used in this context, among seems the more "precise" of the two. I also looked at some of the results and Kaz's Ngram, and they seem to support your assertion; in the more scholarly, scientific sources, among seemed to be favored somewhat. – J.R. Dec 2 '13 at 10:12
  • @snailboat Dang, you know! That's exactly what my intuition told me also: that "popular among" is somehow more polished. I associate "popular with" with those funny uses like "you're popular with my dad". So I was somewhat surprised by the ngram results; but now JR's comment puts it in a different light. Maybe "popular among" shows its polish and shine through its lower ... popularity. – Kaz Dec 3 '13 at 0:46
  • @J.R. Since both your comments tell me I'm not crazy, I'm going to incorporate that into my answer. – Kaz Dec 3 '13 at 0:50
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Before I explain this, I want to make clear that I'd very strongly suggest following your friend's advice.

Prepositions are one of the trickier parts of English, particularly because we (Americans) sometimes use different prepositions than Brits, which sound wrong to both of us.

Fortunately for you, this is not one. Among/amongst (both acceptable; both mean the same thing) is, as your friend has suggested, more intimate. It's more in line with between. If you're looking for a rule of thumb, use between for two people, and among/amongst for a small group (it's fine to use them interchangeably as long as it's informal; otherwise, it's as described). Among(st) is more tightly knit or closely bound than with.

As for with, it several meanings, but in this context--i.e. a shared interest--with is more general. It's better suited for a larger group, and the connection would be much looser. There are more subtle nuances, but they're not important here.

Again, if you make this error in conversation, only the pickiest of people would care, and even then, they'd still know what you meant. Your English does not need to be perfect to be understood. We often make corrections silently (and unconsciously) because we understand what's at hand. Context is king in English.

Preposition selection is one of the more trivial aspects of English, so long as what you're saying can only be construed in one conceivable way, it's fine.

If you slip up with the three prepositions (again, in this context), there will be little ambiguity. There are a handful of exceptions, but if you stick with the rule you already understand, you'll be perfectly fine.

Now, if you were to, say, use about or for, that'd be a more significant error. But confusing among(st), between, and with is a minor (and likely not a universally agreed upon) error. This only matters in the most formal of contexts.

And finally:

The stay in hospital reduces (the hospital stay is reduced??) when a patient is operated on with (in/using?) a pinhole (endoscopic) surgery. This reduces the bill of the hospital (hospital bill) and hence, in this town of poor people, this procedure is popular among surgeons.

Due to (Because there are?) less complications and (because there is?) minimal cut(s/cutting?) on of the skin, pinhole (endoscopic) surgery is popular with surgeons all over the world.

Perfect. To be honest, they're interchangeable here, but this follows your rule. I've marked up some of the more important errors. That's where you should focus. If it's not in bold type, it's optional.

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Your "learned person" may be making up nonexistent rules to maintain the appearance of being learned.

I do not sense any difference in the overt meaning whatsoever.

Both of them mean that "some significant fraction of the world's population of surgeons looks favorably upon this procedure and practices it".

However, "popular among" has a polished nuance: a more formal air to it.

On the other hand, "Y popular with X" can have the slightly annoying nuance that the speaker is trying to convince us that everyone in the group X likes Y, not just many individuals among X. There is even this usage: "popular with everyone". Why does that use the word everyone, if the meaning is that many like it, not quite everyone? In fact the intended meaning of "popular with everyone" is quite often "liked by everyone".

About your friend's claim, however, it in fact appears to be backwards. You see, it is possible, at least nowadays, to use "popular with" for a single person, or just small number of specific people:

You're not gonna be popular { with | among* } your manager, and his boss, if you keep coming late to work like this. [Those two are not going to like it, and by extension they will not like you, if you keep coming late.]

If you show interest in golf, you will be really popular { with | among* } my dad. [My dad is very interested in golf and warms up to people who share his interest.]

Pizza is really popular { with | among* } my kids. [All three of my kids like pizza.]

True, this usage blatantly abuses the meaning of "popular" that it inherits from its Latin origins---yet, the usage exists, and it does not support "among".

This usage also supports the idea that "popular with X" does have the nuance of "liked by everyone in group X", which extends down to small groups like "my dad" or "my two kids".

A Google Books Ngram Search suggests that "is popular with" has been gaining popularity over "is popular among" since 1980. Other combinations like "be popular with" versus "be popular among" show somewhat different trends but the main one which emerges is that "popular with" is several times more ... popular. However, the less popular choice, "popular among", is precisely the one that feels cleaner somehow, more formal. The more frequently used form isn't necessarily the one you want to reach for yourself.

Based what I've discovered in researching and thinking about this question, I will probably be avoiding "popular with" from now on in favor of "popular among".

One final observation worth making is that there is a potential ambiguity in the use of "among":

Michael Jackson is very popular among pop singers.

This can be avoided by either of these two sentences, and similar ones, depending on the intended meaning:

M. J. is a popular pop singer.

M. J. is very popular among those who are pop singers.

also:

M. J. is very popular among other pop singers.

The second one avoids the ambiguity because "[person] popular among those who" makes it clear that [person] is separate and distinct from "those who". Then after "those who" we can have a clause which gives "those" people whatever attribute we wish, even such that [person] is included among them.

The usage "popular from among" occurs, and avoids the ambiguity, but it is not standard English; "from among" pairs with certain nouns ("popular choice from among") or appears part of verb phrases ("to be chosen from among").


In this answer, the * symbol marks a choice as ungrammatical.

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    I agree that the usage dividing line is probably not as sharp as the advice given by Maulik's friend might indicate. It's not uncommon for prepositions to have overlapping meanings and be interchangable in many contexts. That said, I sense a spirit of helpfulness rather than an attempt to appear smart. If someone asked: "What's a good rule of thumb that would tell me when to use with, and when to use among?" the advice dispensed by Maulik's friend doesn't appear to be particularly bad guidance, particularly if she was put on the spot and didn't have time to do a lot of research. – J.R. Dec 2 '13 at 9:53
  • @J.R. I don't think there is a dividing line. If anything, that is backwards. It is possible nowadays to say "such and such is popular with [single person]". I think I will add that to the answer, in fact. – Kaz Dec 2 '13 at 22:26
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    @Kaz Your 1st example is wrong. It's with in the 1st sentence and either in the 2nd. I don't think that you can say from among in the Michael Jackson example. I understand exactly what you mean, but it's not at all grammatically correct. Instead, it'd be popular for a pop singeR or as far as pop singers go. Otherwise, amongst/with means something like this: popular amongst/with his peers. The OP's friend's advice is not poor advice. It's actually good advice for someone speaking English as a second (or 3rd, etc.) language in that, at least he'd never be wrong. – Giambattista Dec 2 '13 at 23:36
  • ^ clearly doesn't understand { with | among* } notation: that the asterisk marks the ungrammatical choice. "from among", by itself, is grammatical and I have heard it with "popular". It could be an elision of "popular choice from among ..." and that isn't the point of the example anyway. Advice that makes bogus distinctions that don't matter, so that you don't end up being wrong, is still bogus; you're wasting your effort caring about a phony distinction instead of learning something real. – Kaz Dec 3 '13 at 9:03
  • @Kaz Yes, That's because, ordinarily, an asterisk indicates the correct choice. From among is in no way, shape, or form grammatical in that particular example. You can choose from among, but you cannot, in any dialect, say popular from among pop stars. That just can't be elided. You don't have carte-blanche with elision. The sentence doesn't make sense with from among, which is why it would never be ambiguous. Look, you have to learn the basics before you get to the there are no rules point. There is a difference in meaning between with and amongst. – Giambattista Dec 3 '13 at 19:42

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