'Awhile' versus 'A While' - Commonly Confused Words

Commonly Confused Words

Jane Straus et al., The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation (Wiley, 2014).

It's easy to confuse the adverb awhile with the two-word noun phrase a while: the main difference between them is grammatical.

The adverb awhile (one word) means for a short time: "Stay awhile."

The noun phrase a while (two words) refers to a period of time: "I sat for a while and waited."

Also, see the usage notes below.


  • Before removing the radiator cap, wait awhile for the engine to cool.
  • I haven't been to a football game in a long while.

Usage Notes

  • "Awhile is an adverb, with the same meaning as the adverbial prepositional phrase for a while: Let's rest awhile; Let's rest for a while. When for a while cannot be substituted for awhile, awhile should be a while: spend a while with me. When for occurs, awhile should not follow; Stay for awhile should be Stay for a while or Stay awhile."
    (Edward Johnson, The Handbook of Good English. Washington Square Press, 1991)
  • "As a noun, spell it as two words: a while. As an adverb, spell it as one: awhile."
    (Bryan Garner, Garner's Modern American Usage. Oxford University Press, 2009)


(a) "Life's short. If you don't look around once in _____ you might miss it."
(Ferris Bueller in the movie Ferris Bueller's Day Off, 1986)

(b) Merdine invited me to stay ____ longer, but it was getting late.

Answers to Practice Exercises: Awhile and A While

a) "Life's short. If you don't look around once in a while you might miss it." (Ferris Bueller)

(b) Merdine invited me to stay awhile longer, but it was getting late.

Glossary of Usage: Index of Commonly Confused Words