Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Awhile and A While

Techie Tuesday

A while is a noun phrase in which "a" is an article, and "while" functions as a noun meaning "a short period of time."

Awhile is an adverb meaning "for a while."
The word awhile has "for" built into its meaning.

Basically, the meaning is the same, it's the structure that differs.

A mnemonic to assist in determining which to use, is whether "for a while" could be used in the sentence, without changing its meaning, where you were intending to use awhile.


- "I'll speak with you awhile" is correct because you could also say, "I'll speak with you for a while."

- "I'll speak with you for awhile" is not correct because you're actually using the word "for" twice.
(awhile = for a while: "I'll speak with you for for a while.")

- "I'll prepare my blog in awhile" is not correct as you would not say "I'll prepare my blog in for a while."

- "Writing the blog may take awhile" is not correct because, "Writing the blog may take for a while" is not idiomatic English.
(awhile = for a while: "Writing the blog may take for for a while.")

- "I have relatives staying with me awhile" is correct, as you could also say "I have relatives staying with me for a while."

- "I have relatives staying with me for awhile" is not correct, as in actuality that would be saying, "I have relatives staying with me for for a while."


The two-word noun phrase a while is more often the correct choice that is the one-word adverb awhile.

Most grammatical errors involve using awhile where a while would be the appropriate choice.

Again, remember the mnemonic of placing the word "for" before either choice. It's a nearly foolproof way of determining which is appropriate to use.

Sources: Gregg Reference Manual, Grammarmudge, AP Stylebook, CMS


  1. I've never really thought about this! Good point, though. I rarely find a use for 'awhile.'

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  2. It took me for awhile to get this one! (wink)

    Another fine tutorial. Got it added to my Clear as a Crystal file.

    The Old Silly

  3. Thanks, Elizabeth!

    Marvin: Glad it sunk in, even if it took for awhile! LOL! :)

  4. I think I will have to ponder this awhile. I never gave the word that much thought, but then I don't usually think of grammar when I'm writing ubtil after it's done.

  5. What a wonderful tip! I shall try my best to remember it.


  6. CC: I never realized how few people actually THINK about this one! Glad I chose it for a post! And you used it properly! Good job! :)

    Elspeth: Thank you! I've actually seen this used incorrectly in published books - that's actually why I decided to do a post on it. A lot of people aren't aware of the difference.

  7. Oh!!! Those examples are perfect and it really makes sense now. Thanks!


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