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The Difference Between “Awhile” and “A While”

Awhile (one word) is an adverb that means "for a period of time". A while is a noun phrase that means an unspecified period of time.



When to use “awhile” or “a while”?

Ask yourself, “Am I trying to say, ‘stay for a short time“? Or, are you referring to a vague, unspecified period of time? As in, ‘I haven’t seen her in a while‘. As these sentences show, the former uses ‘awhile‘, and  the latter uses ‘a while‘. The reason for this, and more, will be explained in this article! Keep reading, comrades!

Awhile vs a while: the difference + examples

Examples with “awhile”Examples with “a while”
Can you wait here awhile? It’s been a while since we’ve seen each other!

The key is to understand when to use ‘awhile‘ and ‘a while‘ is to remember that both belong to different parts of speech. To test yourself and see if you know the difference between them, try replacing ‘awhile‘ with other noun phrases like ‘a year‘, or, ‘a decade‘. If the sentence still makes sense, then stick to the two-word noun phrase, ‘awhile‘.

The correct use of aisle vs. isle in sentences.

Awhile (one word) is an adverb that means ‘for a period of time’, or ‘for a short time’. Since awhile is an adverb, it always modifies a verb in a sentence:  

Examples: Sit and relax awhile!

After class, we studied awhile.

A quick tip is that ‘awhile‘ already includes the meaning of ‘for‘ on its own, so you don’t actually need to include the preposition ‘for’ before ‘awhile’. Another quick tip is that with both sentence examples, you could replace ‘awhile‘ with ‘for a short time‘ or ‘for a bit‘, and the sentence still works. This is how you awhile‘ (one word) over ‘a while‘ (two-word noun-phrase)!

"A while" noun phrase shown in sentences.

A while is a noun phrase that includes the article “a” and the noun “while”, and means “a period of time”. Most often, you will see ‘a while’ follow a preposition, such as ‘for’, ‘in’ or ‘after’.

Examples:

It’s been a while since I’ve seen Sarah.

We’ll go to the movies in a while.

I travelled through Italy a while ago and loved it.

Sentence examples with awhile

1. After a long day at work, she decided to sit down and relax awhile.

3. Can you wait here awhile?

5. Let’s take a break and chat awhile before getting back to work.

4. Go play awhile!

5. He rested awhile before getting back to work.

Sentence examples with a while

1. It took me quite a while to finish reading that lengthy novel.

2. After living in the city for a while, he decided to move to the countryside for a change.

3. We hadn’t seen each other in a while, so our reunion was filled with laughter and stories.

4. It will be some time before we can go on vacation again; we need to save up for a while.

5. She had been away on a business trip for a while, but now she’s back with us.

Synonyms of awhile

  • briefly
  • for a bit
  • for a moment
  • for a little while
  • for a spell
  • momentarily
  • not for long
  • temporarily
  • transiently

Origin of a while

Old English hwile, accusative of hwil “a space of time,” from Proto-Germanic *hwilo (source also of Old Saxon hwil, Old Frisian hwile, Old High German hwila, German Weile, Gothic hveila “space of time, while”), originally “rest”.

Origin of a while

“For a space of time,” c. 1300, from contraction of Old English ane hwile “(for) a while”.

Check out other commonly confused words

Sources  

  1. Harper, Douglas. “Etymology of while.” Online Etymology Dictionary, https://www.etymonline.com/word/while. Accessed 12 September, 2023.
  2. Harper, Douglas. “Etymology of awhile.” Online Etymology Dictionary, https://www.etymonline.com/word/awhile. Accessed 12 September, 2023.


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