“I’m going to be gone a while." Or is that awhile? Do you ever find yourself grappling with this brain teaser within the English language? Perhaps it has been awhile…or a while since you learnt about this particular grammar rule at school. So is it awhile or a while? It’s easier than you think.
Awhile or A While: What’s the Difference?
Well, they both relate to periods of time. "A while" should be used when you are referring to a period of time. "Awhile" should be used if you are trying to describe just a short period of time.
It’s not surprising considering how similar the two words and their relevant meanings are. They’ve both been a part of the English language for over 100 years, yet the majority of us still tend to use them incorrectly.
The other reason of the confusion is because understanding their definitions means you first need to correctly remember the difference between a noun phrase and an adverb…a memory that more than a few of us may admit to leaving back in our English classroom.
Awhile or A While: How to Use Them Correctly
"Awhile" is an adverb. Adverbs, you may recall, are words that describe a verb (a “doing” word) or an adjective (a “descriptive” word). For example, in “He quickly runs”, the adverb is “quickly”. So the word "awhile" is an adverb that describes “for a short period of time”.
A simple rule to remember how to use "awhile" is that it should never follow a preposition, such as "in" or "by". A great trick, when in doubt, is to replace "awhile" with another adverb, such as "quietly". If the sentence makes sense, you’ve chosen the correct word.
E.g.: “Let’s wait here quietly.” = “Let’s wait here awhile.”
I stayed awhile at the party.
She rested awhile on the sofa.
She rested for awhile on the sofa.
"A while" is what’s known as a noun phrase, meaning it is an article "a" followed by a noun "while". This phrase will almost always come after a preposition, which is a word such as "in" or "for". We can use the same rule as above to test whether or not we should be using "a while" or "awhile".
I’d like to stop and rest for a while.
My mother will be visiting here in a while.
My mother will be visiting here a while.