Word Choice – Awhile Versus A While

Barbara’s Question: “When do you use ‘awhile’ and ‘a while?’ ”

BizWritingTip response: Awhile means “for an unspecified period of time.” A while is a noun phrase “meaning a period of time.”

Although the words convey a similar meaning, the structure is different. Awhile (written as one word) has the word “for” built into it. It is used as an adverb phrase. The simplest advice is to use it whenever you can substitute “for a short time.”

Examples (correct)
He read for a short time.
He read awhile.

Example (incorrect)
He read for awhile. (You are duplicating the word “for.” He read for for a short time.)

When a preposition (e.g., for, after, or in) precedes the word, you use the noun phrase “a while.”

Examples (correct)
We will go there in a while.
After a while, the customer left.
We worked on the project for a while.

Don’t you just love English?