Grammar A While vs. Awhile: Is There a Grammatical Difference? |
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A While vs. Awhile: Is There a Grammatical Difference?

If you want to write about an unspecified period of time, is it better to use a while or awhile? Is one version correct? Do they both mean the same thing?

We’ve seen versions of this question appear in comments on our website. In today’s post, we’ll guide you through awhile and a while so you can use each one correctly. Let’s get started!

The Difference Between A While and Awhile

Although they look similar and can sound the same when spoken aloud, a while and awhile have slightly different meanings.

A while (two words) is a noun phrase that refers to an inexact measurement of time. Depending on the context, it could mean hours, days, or even decades. To further clarify, let’s look at a while being used correctly in a sentence:

I haven’t called him in a while.

Even though an exact time frame hasn’t been given, we can understand from the rest of the sentence that the meaning suggests “a long time” or “an extended period.” Note again that this phrase includes an indefinite article (a) and a noun (while).

Awhile (spelled as one word) also indicates “for a time.” While the meaning is similar to the first version’s, the difference is that awhile is an adverb and not a noun phrase.

Jerry has been sleeping awhile after his overnight shift at work.

Why A While and Awhile Can Be Hard to Distinguish

Our website includes many fine points of trickier grammar, but a while vs. awhile is one that some people might find particularly puzzling. There are a few reasons for this.

First, a while and awhile look and sound almost identical. The only difference is a space in one of the versions.

Second, in many instances, either usage could be seen as correct because of how it reads and sounds (although this isn’t correct). Consider the following:

I’m going to start my video game console and play awhile.

I’m going to start my video game console and play a while.

Because a while is a noun phrase, in a context such as this one, it would need to be an object in a prepositional phrase to function adverbially:

I’m going to start my video game console and play for a while.

As a one-word adverb, the expression can function independently as one word:

I’m going to start my video game console and play awhile.

That leads us to the third point of confusion. The adverb awhile simply isn’t used that often in everyday communication. You are probably more likely to see, speak, and write a while in a prepositional phrase.

Now that you understand the differences and subtleties, you’re even more prepared to use the right expression at the right times.

Gain More Grammar Insight

We have many more articles that can help you master the finer points of grammar in American English. Review other topics of interest or perhaps some you haven’t thought of before!

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