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Awhile or A While?

By Judy Vorfeld

A while ago, I decided to research the dif­fer­ences between “a while” and “awhile.” I like Professor Paul Brians’ com­ments:

When “awhile” is spelled as a sin­gle word, it is an adverb mean­ing “for a time” (“stay awhile”); but when “while” is the object of a prepo­si­tional phrase, like “Lend me your mon­key wrench for a while” the “while” must be sep­a­rated from the “a.” (But if the prepo­si­tion “for” were lack­ing in this sen­tence, “awhile” could be used in this way: “Lend me your mon­key wrench awhile.”)

Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary* says, “Although con­sid­ered a sole­cism (an ungram­mat­i­cal com­bi­na­tion of words in a sen­tence; a minor blun­der in speech; some­thing devi­at­ing from the proper, nor­mal, or accepted order; a breach of eti­quette or deco­rum) by many com­men­ta­tors, awhile, like sev­eral other adverbs of time and place, is often used as the object of a prepo­si­tion (for awhile there is a silence — Lord Dunsany).

For the word “while,” the dic­tio­nary says “1 : a period of time espe­cially when short and marked by the occur­rence of an action or a con­di­tion : TIME
2 : the time and effort used (as in the per­for­mance of an action) : TROUBLE (worth your while)”

Thoroughly con­fused? Sit back and rest for a while! Or sit back and rest awhile!

Here’s Random House’s take on awhile/a while.

*By per­mis­sion. From Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate® Dictionary at www.m-w.com by Merriam-Webster, Incorporated.


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