Make Your Editor Cry: Awhile vs. A While

Make Your Editor Cry:  Awhile vs. A While

Not long ago I thought awhile about taking a while to pen this article. Let’s face it. The differences between awhile and a while can take a while to sink in. Let’s spend a while looking into their meanings. Ponder their usages awhile and you will probably get it.

The “while” in the phrase a while is a noun that means “a period of time.” If you can swap out the phrase a while with the phrase “a period of time”—like 5 minutes or 2 hours or 1 week for example—then you’re likely dealing with the noun phrase “a while”.

It’s not unusual to see the article and noun in this phrase split up with adverbs like long, little, short, etc. This equates to saying “a long 5 minutes” or “a little period of time” or “a short 2 hours.”

Examples:

It took a while to raise the anchor so we could make way.
It took a long while to raise the anchor so we could make way.
The best way to find the answer is to think for a while about the problem.
The best way to find the answer is to think for a short while about the problem.

Awhile is an adverb that means “for a while.” If you can swap out the single word awhile with “for a period of time,”—like for 5 minutes or for 2 hours or for 1 week—then you’re likely dealing with the adverb awhile.

Examples:

Correct:

He drank water awhile after running five miles.
You said you would sing awhile a while ago.

Incorrect:

It took awhile to raise the anchor so we could make way.
The best way to find the answer is to think for awhile about the problem.
He drank a while after running five miles.
You said you would sing a while awhile ago.

Remember, awhile is an adverb and “while” as in “a while” is a noun. If you just think awhile about their differences, then it shouldn’t take more than a while to figure out when and how to use which.

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