A While vs Awhile

By Ali Hale

One of our readers, Robert, wrote to ask Daily Writing Tips:

Here’s a couple of words I use all the time interchangeably. But are they? a while vs. awhile Help me out, o oracle!

No problem, Robert! This one’s pretty easy to grasp:

A while is a noun meaning “a length of time”

  • “I slept for a while.”
    – (compare with “I slept for a bit” and “I slept for three hours”)
  • “I was away from my desk for a while.”
    – (compare with “I was away from my desk for two minutes”)

Awhile is an adverb, meaning “for a time,” or literally, “for a while”.

  • “I slept awhile before dinner.”
    (compare with “I slept deeply before dinner” and “I slept badly before dinner”.)

As you can see, the words can be used almost interchangeably in some cases – but a while needs to be accompanied by a preposition, such as “for” (“I slept for a while”) or “ago” (“I left work a while ago”). Awhile always means “for a while”.

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38 Responses to “A While vs Awhile”

  • Susan

    Thanks for the answer. I enjoy good grammar. I did come up with a question for you.
    In the introductory paragraph you wrote:
    “Here’s a couple of words I use all the time interchangeably. But are they? a while vs. awhile Help me out, o oracle!”

    Question: Here’s = Here is. Is it correct to use “Here’s a couple of words…..” or would we write it this way “Here are a couple of words…?”

    Thanks for your reply
    Susan

  • TED

    To simplify things, though not 100% correct English, which form (a while or awhile?) would be desired to use in all cases? If I use “a while” all of the time, would I be considered a perfect English abuser?

  • Dale A. Wood

    Before is a preposition in time, as in this example:

    “Back before the year 1776, America was a British colony.”

  • Tiza

    Hello,

    I’ve got a question about the word “a while vs. awhile.” It’s this sentence, and the person is saying that it happened a long time ago:

    We’re talking back awhile.

    So in this case, is it one word or two?

    Thanks

  • James

    I thought “Awhile” , “A while” meant a long period of time.

    example “I haven’t seen you for a while now.”

    and I’ve been using it that way for a while now… lol ohh i did it again.

  • James

    Mo.

    “Awhile” vs “A while” is not a rule.

    It’s two different things; one is an adverb, the other a noun.

  • lucia

    a few and few… is the same idea of little and a little…

    a few is a positive idea few is a negative idea….

    example….

    She has a few chocolates in the fridge . She can still have her snacks….( some but not many).

    She has few chocolates in the fridge. She have to go to the market to buy some…..

  • Mo

    Can you help me settle a debate? Is a while vs. awhile a rule that came about because of frequent misspellings and general ignorance (as is the case with “you’re welcome” and “you’re welcomed”), or have they always been two words? Thanks.

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