Awhile is used as an adverb to mean “for a short time” of “for a period of time.” It modifies the verb that precedes it. Since it already has “for” included in the meaning, you don’t write “for awhile.”
If you’re unsure if you’re using awhile correctly, you can replace it with the word “temporarily” or the phrase “for a while.” If it still makes sense, awhile is correct.
Examples: Awhile in a sentence I wish I could relax awhile after my hike, but I have an appointment.
I saw Menno awhile before he had to take the bus.
Derek watched TV awhile and then went to school.
A while as a noun phrase
A while is used as a noun phrase to mean “a period of time.” It consists of the indefinite article “a” and the noun “while.” It is often preceded by a preposition (like “for”).
If you don’t know whether you’re using a while correctly, you can replace it with a specific measure of time (e.g., “an hour”). If the sentence still makes sense, a while is correct.
Examples: A while in a sentence I have to go in a while to pick my son up from school.
Rodger spent a while thinking about an excuse to get out of the birthday party.
Every once in a while, I order takeout.
A while can also be modified by an adjective to qualify the period of time.
Examples: A while in a sentence Just wait a little while before texting again!
I hope you’ll stay around for a while longer!
I hadn’t seen my husband in a long while.
Is it awhile back or a while back?
A while back is a synonym for a while ago. It’s used to describe an unspecified time period in the past. It’s incorrect to use the adverb awhile in this case, because that word can only modify verbs.
Examples: A while back in a sentence I broke my toe a while back, but it’s all healed now.
I met up with Deidre a while back, but I haven’t seen her since then.
A while back, I went to the beach. I would love to go again.
Is it awhile ago or a while ago?
A while ago is a synonym for a while back. It’s also used to describe an unspecified time period in the past. It’s incorrect to use the adverb awhile in this case, because it can only modify verbs.
Examples: A while ago in a sentence Fatima went to Italy a while ago, but she has been back for a few months now.
When did you last see Peter? I think it was a while ago.
I don’t understand you. A while ago, you didn’t even like him, and now you’re dating!
Awhile vs a while quiz
Test your understanding of the difference between “awhile” and “a while” by filling in the worksheet below.
Do you want to know more about commas, parts of speech, email, or other language topics? Check out some of our other language articles full of examples and quizzes.