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Common Errors in Written English: A While, Awhile

How Waiting for a While Is Better Than Waiting for Awhile

by Owen Fourie

Is it a while or awhile? Which is correct? Here are three sentences using these words. Which, do you suppose, is correct?

  1. The children played for awhile in the rain and now they are sopping wet.
  2. The children played for a while in the rain and now they are sopping wet.
  3. The children played awhile in the rain and now they are sopping wet.

These words are a source of confusion for many who have to write essays and other papers.

In the three sentences given above, there is only one that is incorrect—the first one.

Both a while and awhile are correct, but awhile tends to be the word that is used incorrectly.

Let’s clear up the confusion so that you will know how to use these words correctly.

Rest awhile

When you use awhile, you are using an adverb that means

  • for a short time;
  • for a moment;
  • for a while;
  • briefly.

Adverbs modify verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs.

Seeing that awhile means for a while, if you write,

The children played for awhile in the rain and now they are sopping wet,”

you are actually saying,

The children played for for a while in the rain and now they are sopping wet.”

When you use awhile, you need to drop the preposition for:

The children played awhile in the rain and now they are sopping wet.”

This allows awhile to serve as an adverb modifying the verb played and not as an object (noun) following the preposition for.

Rest for a while

In the second example, at the beginning of this article, while is used as a noun. It is not restricted to this part of speech.

As a noun, it can serve as the object of a preposition, and this is what it does in the example:

The children played for a while in the rain and now they are sopping wet.”

When while is used in this way, it is preceded by the indefinite article a as a separate word. It must not be written awhile, which, as already noted, is an adverb and does not take a preposition.

Here are some other uses of while:

  • We spent an hour in the library, and that student read nothing all the while. (noun);
  • I earned so little doing that job; it wasn’t worth my while. (noun);
  • It was pleasant while it lasted. (conjunction);
  • I would like the children to stay inside while it is raining. (conjunction);
  • While I respect your point of view, I am concerned about some of its implications. (conjunction);
  • Justin had only three days left to work on his assignment, while Emily had five days left to work on hers. (conjunction);
  • They have observed how some students while away the time on trivial matters. (verb)

It should be clear now that waiting for a while is better than waiting for awhile and that you should always wait awhile to think and choose the correct expression.

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How familiar are you with the confusion of awhile and while? Are there other points like this for which you would like some clarification? Your comments, observations, and questions are welcome.

Here are more articles to help you with English words, grammar, and essay writing.

Copyright © 2011 by English Essay Writing Tips www.englishessaywritingtips.com


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