Comparing "zhijian" and “zhongjian"
When describing spatial relationships, the words 之间 (zhījiān) and 中间 (zhōngjiān) will come in handy to express the concepts of "between" and "among." Both have a few particular uses, though.
Both as "Between... and..."
之间 and 中间 can both refer to a space "in the middle" between two points, as long as we're talking about physical space.
A + 和 + B + 之间／中间
- 上海 在 江苏 省 和 浙江 省 之间 / 中间 。Shanghai is between Jiangsu Province and Zhejiang Province.
- 我 家 客厅 和 卧室 中间 是 洗手间 。Our bathroom is between the bedroom and the living room.
Grammatically, both 之间 and 中间 are nouns (location nouns, to be precise). One difference between the two, however, is that 中间 can be used all by itself, but 之间 is always used together with other words.
- 明天 早上 我 有 两 个 考试 ，之间 有 20 分钟 的 休息 时间 。
- 明天 早上 我 有 两 个 考试 ，中间 有 20 分钟 的 休息 时间 。I have two exams tomorrow morning. There is a 20 minute break in between.
Usages of 中间
中间 as "In the Middle of"
中间 can be used for describing location within an object. This "within" could be "inside" a space, like inside a house, in the middle (center) of a table, or in the middle of the screen. You can't use 之间 in this way.
Place (+ 的) + 中间
- 客厅 的 中间 有 一 个 沙发 。There is a sofa in the middle of the living room.
- 我 的 座位 在 第 七 排 中间 。My seat is in the middle of Row 7.
- 把 花 放 在 桌子 中间 。Put the flowers in the middle of the table.
Try not to say:
- 大厅 之间 有 很多 人 。There are many people in the middle of the lobby.
中间 as "Among"
中间 is used when referring to one (or more) "among many."
A few examples:
- 你们 中间 有 会 唱歌 的 吗 ？Can anyone among you sing?
- 这些 人 中间 我 只 认识 一 个 。Among these people, I only know one person.
之间 can't be used to mean "among" like this.
Usages of 之间
之间 as "Ranging from... to..."
This usage refers to examples like "between 8am and 3pm" or "between 20 and 30".
A + 到 + B + 之间
- 你 可以 明天 早上 八 点 到 十 点 之间 过来 。You can come between 8am and 10am tomorrow.
- 45 岁 到 60 岁 之间 的 人 很 容易 得 这种病 。People aged 45 to 60 years old are susceptible to this disease.
之间 for Describing Relationships
The idea is that the relationship is "between" two or more people, with the abstract "between" part indicated by 之间. This usage of 之间 can also refer to relationships between two (or more) companies, countries, etc., but mostly it's used between people. 中间 can't be used in this way.
A few examples:
- 夫妻 之间 应该 多 交流 。There should be plenty of communication between husband and wife.
- 你们 之间 到底 发生了 什么 事情 ？What exactly happened between the two of you?
- 她 不 太 会 处理 上下 级 之间 的 关系 。She doesn't really understand how to handle the relationships between superiors and subordinates.