Is It A While or Awhile? Learn the Difference!

  • Awhile is an adverb. It means “for a period of time.”
  • A while is a noun phrase. It means “a period of time.”

In 2001, American band Staind released a song called “It’s Been Awhile” as a single from their album Break the Cycle. Even today, it’s still one of the band’s most recognizable songs, thanks to lead singer Aaron Lewis’s powerful vocals and the song’s emotional content. While credit should always be given where it’s due, some grammar sticklers might be a little annoyed that the word awhile in the song’s title is technically incorrect. It should have been written out in two words: “It’s Been A While.”

The Difference Between Awhile and A While

Often the source of confusion for writer, these two words are homophones; they’re pronounced the same but have different meanings. They only have a slight spelling difference: awhile is written as one word; a while is written as two. Since both words have to do with time, how much difference does one space make?

Actually, it makes a big difference! Even though they a lot in common, these two words are very different.

Related: See our other articles on homophones – Whose vs. Who’s and Hear Hear vs. Here Here

A While Definition

A while is a two-word noun phrase. It’s made up of the article “a” and the noun “while.” There’s no need to explain the definition of “a,” so let’s focus on “while,” which means an unspecified amount of time. Therefore, this noun phrase simply means “a period of time.”

Awhile Definition

Awhile is an adverb. It is defined as “for a period of time.” Essentially, awhile is “for” plus “a while.” Since it’s an adverb, awhile functions just like other adverbs. 

  • Tim waited patiently for the bus.

In the sentence above, “patiently” is the adverb that describes the way Tim waited. Awhile works in the same way:

  • Tim waited awhile for the bus.

Graphic describing the difference between awhile (adverb) and a while (period of time)

When to Use Awhile and When to Use A While

There are many common phrases that contain a while. For example, if something hasn’t taken place in a long time, we say it’s been a while. And when something takes a long time to happen, we say it takes quite a while. 

You’ve probably taken note that none of the phrases above used the word awhile. That’s because awhile can only function as a replacement for the phrase for a while. Awhile also cannot be used with prepositions since you can’t say, “Go there in for a while.” A while, however, is much more versatile.

Examples:

  • Cash bars allow the adventurous and wealthy to continue abusing themselves awhile longer.
  • In order to create a welcoming atmosphere, we have decided to place comfortable chairs so that our customers can rest awhile.
  • He said goodbye to his tortured artist persona and began to crack a smile once in a while.
  • Although it was difficult in the beginning, after a while, I began to feel better about my decision.

Now test your newfound knowledge with this short quiz!

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