A while vs. awhile

I was just having a conversation with a friend on twitter about the difference between ‘awhile’ and ‘a while’. He wanted to know if there was a difference since they seem to mean the same thing. I thought I would post about this because it is interesting.

Simple answer = Yes, they are different.

Long answer = They are different because they are different parts of speech.

The word ‘while’ in ‘a while’ is a noun, it specifies some length of time like ‘a minute’ or ‘an hour’.

‘I slept for a while before breakfast.’ See how you can also say ‘I slept for a minute before breakfast.’ Because ‘minute’ and ‘while’ are both nouns. Also, notice how ‘a while’ has the preposition ‘for’ in front of it, which is normal for this phrase.

‘Awhile’ is an adverb which modifies a verb.

‘I slept awhile before breakfast.’ ‘Awhile’ here is referring to the verb. And even simplier terms, the word ‘awhile’ actually means ‘for a while’. So, even though they mean almost the same thing, you use them differently.

Please post a comment if you have any questions and I’ll be happy to talk more about this.

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