'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.

Examples

  • 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)

    Practice

    (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

    Format
    mla apa chicago
    Your Citation
    Nordquist, Richard. "'Awhile' versus 'A While' - Commonly Confused Words." ThoughtCo, Sep. 25, 2017, thoughtco.com/awhile-and-a-while-1689310. Nordquist, Richard. (2017, September 25). 'Awhile' versus 'A While' - Commonly Confused Words. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/awhile-and-a-while-1689310 Nordquist, Richard. "'Awhile' versus 'A While' - Commonly Confused Words." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/awhile-and-a-while-1689310 (accessed January 19, 2018).