It can be difficult to remember the difference between awhile and a while. They are awfully close in their appearance—separated by just one tiny space. Plus, you don’t really have conversational clues to aid you because they sound indistinguishable when spoken. But despite their similar sounds and appearance, these words do have different functions within a sentence, so it is importance for us to keep track of them to maintain clarity in our writing.
Consider the sentences:
Can you stay here awhile longer?
It’s been a while since I’ve eaten sushi.
Is the meaning of the two words clear to you from these sentences? If no, keep reading along as this article contain everything you need to know about the two words.
The word awhile originated from Old English āne hwīle ‘(for) a while’.
Awhile as adverb:
In English, awhile is used as an adverb which means for a short time.
Congress delayed the vote awhile, but eventually the bill passed.
A while as noun phrase:
A while is actually two separate words. “A” is an article, and “while” is a noun meaning a period of time.
When you combine the two of them, they form what is called a noun phrase, which is simply a phrase that plays the role of a noun.
I’m going away for a while.
But if they give him The Tonight Show back, maybe it ends up all right after a while. [Hollywood.com]
Starlings foray across the land and rest awhile on the sunlit twigs of ash. [Guardian]
After a while, Rawls came in to let another set of children have a chance. [Washington Post]
Crazy Horse watched this awhile and then rode down the river where some men were going out to repair the talking wires. [Crazy Horse: The Strange Man of the Oglalas]
We’ve been talking for a while when Baroness Campbell of Surbiton suddenly cuts to the chase, and leaves me speechless. [Telegraph]
Beyond the bar, soft white leather booths beckon you to sit, take off your coat and stay awhile. [In Arkansas]
Awhile or a while:
Is it a while or awhile? Although these words can be tough to remember, it’s important to use them correctly because a while vs. awhile do have different functions inside a sentence. Awhile is an adverb and cannot appear after prepositional phrases. A while is a noun phrases but can also function adverbially. Only a while can come after prepositional phrases. If you can remember this easy rule, you won’t ever misuse awhile vs. a while again. Awhile is used as an adverb, and both are one single word. A while is noun phrase and used after prepositional phrases. All of these are two words.