It can be complicated and confusing to figure out whether you are supposed to use a while or awhile in a sentence. It is also easy to assume that the word awhile isn’t proper grammar. If you say the two out loud in a sentence, you won’t know the difference. However, when it’s on paper, there is a difference.
What is the Difference?
Both a “while” and “awhile” are pronounced the same exact way. Even on paper, you will only notice there is a slight difference in the spelling. The only difference seems to be the space, or nonexistent space, between the letter a and the world while.
They both have something to do with a reference to time. So, how different can they actually be? Surprisingly, even though they seem to have a lot in common, they are different.
There are some people who believe one version of the phrase should be used more than the other. It is important to keep in mind that, even though there is a slight difference in the phrases, it really doesn’t matter much to readers.
“A while” is a phrase made up of two words. This phrase is considered to be a noun, with an article of a and the noun being while. The word “while” refers to a period of time that isn’t specified. By adding the article “a” in front of it, the phrase means a period of time.
After a while, you will start to feel more relaxed.
Her computer broke, so she had to tell her teacher she’d be offline for a while.
That happened a while ago, I can’t believe you remember!
Awhile is one word that is considered to be an adverb. This word means for a period of time. Simply put, awhile is basically adding for to the beginning of a while in a shortened version. Since it is an adverb, it gets used just like any other adverb.
He waited awhile for his food to be delivered.
Waiting awhile for something to happen isn’t always a bad thing.
My friend hasn’t been having the best time, so I decided to help him for awhile.
Maybe you should take a break for awhile so you can heal.
How Do You Know Which to Use?
When you are trying to decide whether you should use awhile or a while, it is important to make sure you choose the right one. A while is already a part of several phrases we currently use. If something hasn’t happened for what seems to be a long time, we say it has been a while.
The main difference is that we use “awhile’ when we are modifying a verb and ” a while” after a preposition.
Notice the difference in these sentences:
Why don’t you just sit awhile?
Why don’t you sit on the sofa for a while?
In the first sentence, we are adding more meaning to the verb “sit”.
In the second sentence, we have the preposition “for” and we just want to say how long someone should sit(in this case an undefined time).
We also use a while when we are talking about something that happened previously. For example, something happened a while ago. Maybe something happened after a while. Whatever the case may be, a while is the most common.
While the statements above don’t use the word awhile, there is a reason. Awhile only has the ability to be used in place of the phrase a while. This is why the two-word phrase is more common than the one-word phrase. It usually makes more sense and flows better.
Using While Alone
The word while is the base of both of these phrases. It is most common to see the word used as a conjunction with a meaning of although, during, or throughout that time. For example, she made the brownies while making dinner.
While can also be used as a verb meaning as time passed. For example, he whiled away the day reading his favorite book.