A while and awhile are tricky. Sometimes it is two words, and sometimes it is just one word. This lesson will teach you when to use which word.
A while is a noun that means an unspecified amount of time.
Example: It has been a while since the dinosaur played checkers.
Awhile is an adverb that means an unspecified amount of time.
Example: The dinosaur asked her to wait awhile.
How you can tell when to use awhile or a while
Since awhile is an adverb (a word that describes a verb), you can replace it with another adverb. Let’ s use patiently.
Example: The dinosaur asked her to wait patiently.
However, note our first example. You can’t replace a while with an adverb, or else it looks funny:
It has been patiently since the dinosaur played checkers.
So, if you replace awhile / a while with an adverb and the sentence still makes sense, then use awhile (one word). If it doesn’t make sense, use a while (two words).
Another trick is to look for the verb. If awhile comes directly after a verb, then it should be one word. Note our earlier example:
The dinosaur asked her to wait awhile.
You can see that awhile comes directly after the verb wait.
What about prepositional phrases?
If you see a preposition (such as for or in) before a while, make sure you have written a while as two words.
Example: The dinosaur asked her to wait for a while.
Example: The dinosaur said he’d come back in a while.
Test your word choice skills with a little quiz. Replace the blank with either a while or awhile. The answers are at the bottom.
1. The dinosaur eyed his prey for _______.
2. The dinosaur hid ______ and eyed his prey
3. It had been _______ until the dinosaur made his attack.
Answers: 1. a while (because it’s in a prepositional phrase) 2. awhile (because it’s an adverb) 3. a while (because it’s a noun)