Awhile vs. A While: When to Use Awhile or A While in English

Is there any way that the English language can get even more difficult than it already is, you might ask? Unfortunately, the answer is yes; English will never stop surprising you and you’ll carry on discovering new pairs of confusing words. Here, let’s look at awhile vs. a while. These two words differ only by a space but in fact, they are different parts of speech, so obviously they can’t be used interchangeably.

Awhile vs. A While: the Key Differences

Awhile vs. A While

Awhile vs. A While: Key Takeaways

  • Awhile (one word) functions as an adverb, meaning it describes an action. Its usage implies “for a short period of time.” For example: “She will rest awhile.”
  • A while (two words), on the other hand, is a noun phrase. It uses the article “a” coupled with the noun “while” to indicate “a period of time.” It’s often preceded by prepositions, such as in: “She will rest for a while.”
One Word Two Words
Awhile A while
Adverb Noun phrase
“She stayed awhile.” “She stayed for a while.”

Awhile vs. A While: the Definitions

Meaning  of ‘Awhile’

‘Awhile’ is an adverb that is used to describe an action occurring for a short period of time. For example, one might say, “She will rest awhile.”

Meaning of ‘A While’

‘A while,’ on the other hand, references the length of time itself and is a noun phrase. It is correctly utilized in sentences like, “She will rest for a while,” particularly following prepositions or the words “ago” and “back.”

Usage Guidelines Awhile or A While

When you want to say that some time has passed, use a while. For example, you’ve certainly heard the phrase, “It’s been A WHILE since we last spoke”. Or, if you ask someone about how long it takes to get to the city center, they might reply, “It takes A WHILE to get there”. In both of these cases, a while can be replaced with any other noun that specifies a time period, e.g. “It’s been a year since we last spoke”, “It takes an hour to get there”.

Since the noun a while can be replaced with a different noun, it’s only logical that the adverb awhile can be replaced with another adverb. For instance, a mother can say to her child, “Go play outside AWHILE”. Instead, she could have said, “Go play outside carefully”. The sentence still makes sense, so indeed, awhile is the correct spelling.

In addition, you can always check yourself by replacing the word in question with the phrase “for a while”. If you can do this, then you need an adverb awhile. If you can’t, a while is what you’re looking for.

Take a look at these two sentences:

  • 1) I told my friend to rest awhile.
  • 2) After a while, my friend started feeling better.

In the first sentence, awhile is written as one word because it’s an adverb that can be replaced with “for a while” or with a different adverb. On the other hand, in the second sentence, we’re talking about a time period, e.g. an hour or five minutes. However, we don’t want to specify how much time exactly has passed. For these reasons, a while should be used as a noun and spelled as two words.

Tips for Remembering the Difference

When distinguishing between “awhile” and “a while,” one can follow a few simple tips:

  • Grammatical Role: Remember that “awhile” is an adverb and therefore directly modifies verbs without the need for a preposition. “A while” is a noun phrase which typically follows the preposition “for” or “in.”
  • The Preposition Test: If you can insert the preposition “for” before the phrase and it still makes sense, you should use “a while”. For example, if “for a short time” fits, then “a while” is correct.
  • ‘A’ Article Clue: Since “a while” contains the article “a,” it must be followed by a noun. “While” is that noun. If the phrase acts as a subject or object within a sentence, use “a while.”
  • Rhyme to Remember: If after “a” verb you dwell, then “awhile” you should tell; but if “for” can lead the way, “a while” is what you’ll say.

Awhile vs. A While Examples

Examples for “Awhile”

  1. Can you stay awhile and chat?
  2. She paused awhile to catch her breath before continuing her hike.
  3. Let’s rest awhile before we start moving again.
  4. He waited awhile for the bus, but it never came.
  5. I haven’t seen them in awhile.

Examples for A While”

  1. It’s been a while since we last met.
  2. She’s going to travel for a while before starting her new job.
  3. I’m going to take a break and sit here for a while.
  4. The project was delayed for a while due to unforeseen circumstances.
  5. In a while, we’ll have to start preparing dinner.

Awhile vs. A While Interactive Quiz

Let’s challenge ourselves with a quiz to differentiate between “awhile” and “a while.”

  1. Which of the following is correct?
    • Can you sit here awhile?
    • Can you sit here a while?
  2. Which of the following is correct?
    • He said he would be back in awhile.
    • He said he would be back in a while.
  3. Which of the following is correct?
    • I haven’t seen them for awhile.
    • I haven’t seen them for a while.
  4. Which of the following is correct?
    • Take awhile to think about it.
    • Take a while to think about it.
  5. Which of the following is correct?
    • I will rest awhile before we go.
    • I will rest a while before we go.

Answers and Explanation 

  1. Can you sit here awhile? (Here, “awhile” means for a short time and is an adverb.)
  2. He said he would be back in a while. (When preceded by a preposition like “in,” use the two-word form “a while.”)
  3. I haven’t seen them for a while. (When preceded by a preposition like “for,” use the two-word form “a while.”)
  4. Take a while to think about it. (The phrase “a while” is used after the verb “take” as it is functioning as a noun phrase.)
  5. I will rest awhile before we go. (Here, “awhile” means for a short time and is an adverb.)

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between ‘awhile’ and ‘a while’?

  • ‘Awhile’ (one word) is an adverb, meaning for a period of time.
  • ‘A while’ (two words) is a noun phrase, meaning a period of time.

When should one use ‘awhile’?

  • One should use ‘awhile’ when they need to modify a verb, as in “She will rest awhile.”

When is it appropriate to use ‘a while’?

  • Use ‘a while’ after a preposition or with the words ‘ago’ or ‘back’, for example, “She will rest for a while.”
Usage Example
Awhile “They will stay awhile to enjoy the party.”
A while “They will stay for a while to enjoy the party.”

Is ‘for awhile’ ever correct?

  • No, one should not use ‘for awhile’ because ‘awhile’ already implies ‘for’.

Can you provide an example of ‘awhile’ and ‘a while’ in a sentence?

  • Certainly, “She will sleep awhile” uses ‘awhile’ as an adverb.
  • On the other hand, “She hasn’t seen him in a while” uses ‘a while’ as a noun phrase.

How does one decide whether to use ‘awhile’ or ‘a while’?

  • Remember, ‘awhile’ modifies verbs directly and does not fit after a preposition. ‘A while’ fits into the sentence structure as the object of a preposition or in phrases indicating time past.