Awhile vs. A While – Difference, Examples & Worksheet

Photo of author

Candace Osmond

Candace Osmond studied Advanced Writing & Editing Essentials at MHC. She’s been an International and USA TODAY Bestselling Author for over a decade. And she’s worked as an Editor for several mid-sized publications. Candace has a keen eye for content editing and a high degree of expertise in Fiction.

Are you trying to improve your English vocabulary and looking for help with tricky words? You’re in the right place! This blog post is dedicated to helping you remember when to use “awhile” versus “a while.”

Whether you’re a native English speaker or an English language learner, understanding the difference between these two will be essential for crafting effective sentences. Read on for a full explanation of this challenging concept.

Awhile vs. a While

Grammarist Article Graphic V4 2022 12 20T161908.936

Awhile and a while are both commonly used expressions in the English language. While they sound similar, they have slightly different meanings and uses. Awhile is an adverb that pertains to time and is used to denote a period of time or duration – usually a short one.

Alternatively, a while is a noun phrase that denotes an unspecified time period. As such, the two terms should not be used interchangeably as their meanings can be quite different depending on context.

Is It Correct to Say “in a While”?

The term “in a while” is used when speaking informally in English. It has become a popular phrase for indicating an unspecified length of time. It can often be seen as a vague way of trying to postpone something or give an estimate of the duration of something that cannot be known exactly.

For example, “I’ll come back in a while” could mean that one will be returning shortly or even longer, depending on context and the person’s definition of “a while.”

It is important to remember that this phrase does not indicate the length of time being described and should not be used in formal contexts if specific information is requested.

How Do You Use “Once in Awhile”?

The phrase “once in a while” is a rhetorically useful tool that adds an interesting cadence to our speech. It is primarily used as an adverb in the sense of something that may occur rarely or occasionally – something people do “every now and then.”

Here are some examples:

  • Every once in a while, her granddaughter would drop by to check on her.
  • I like to spend a weekend away from technology every once in a while.

How Do You Properly Use While?

If you eliminate the “a” and want to use “while” as it is, the rules change, and so does its meaning. While is used when talking about two actions co-occurring.

For example:

  • I was watching TV while my little brother was outside playing.
  • Why don’t you take the trash out while I do the dishes?

When to Use Awhile or a While

Before discussing any examples, let’s better understand the definitions for each.

Awhile is an adverb that could be replaced with “for a while.”

  • I’ve been here awhile.
  • Stay awhile and listen!

On the other hand, a while is a noun phrase, and the word “while” itself signifies an undetermined time period.

For example:

  • I’ve been waiting for the bus for quite a while!
  • It has been a while since I saw my cousins last.

The Difference Between Awhile and a While

The English language is a chock of words and phrases that seem to be used interchangeably, yet, their meanings are quite different. Take, for example, the words “awhile” and “a while.”

These phrases can often be seen in conversation, written language, and other forms of communication.

Primarily, “awhile” is used as an adverb meaning “for a short time,” while “a while” is a noun phrase consisting of a determiner/article (“a”) followed by a noun (“while”), both describing a period.

Therefore, knowing the difference between these two seemingly similar phrases is essential to use them correctly and effectively in your writing.

The simplest way to think of them is the following:

  • A while = noun phrase = a period of time
  • Awhile = adverb = for a period of time

The Bottom Line

“Awhile” and “a while” are both expressions that are commonly used in the English language, but they have slightly different meanings and uses.

Awhile is an adverb that pertains to time and is used to denote a period of time or duration – usually a short one. Alternatively, a while is a noun phrase that refers to an unspecified time period.


1. Awhile in the OED (subscription required)

Comments are closed.