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"A While" Versus "Awhile"

Learn the difference between "a while" and "awhile."

By
Mignon Fogarty
May 22, 2010

In Thursday's Grammar Girl podcast, I talked about using "while" to mean "although," but another point about "while" can confound people: What is the difference between "a while" and "awhile"?

"A while" is a time, a noun. The article "a" before "while" is a sure sign that you're dealing with a noun. Notice in the following sentence that you could replace "a while" with another article-noun combination such as "a year":

It's been a while since Squiggly tried marmite.

"Awhile" means "for a time" and it's an adverb. Notice in the following sentence that you could replace "awhile" with another adverb such as "quietly":

Go play awhile.

Finally, just to make it confusing, if you rephrase the previous sentence and replace the adverb with a prepositional phrase, you need the noun again because an adverb can't be the object of the preposition.

Go play for a while.

 

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