Awhile vs A While | Examples, Definitions & Difference

Commonly Confused Words updated on  February 14, 2024 4 min read
“Awhile” and “a while” are homonyms (words that are pronounced the same), but they have slightly different meanings and different grammatical roles.

  • Awhile (without a space) is an adverb that means “for a period of time.”
  • A while (with a space) is a noun phrase that means “a period of time.”
Although “awhile” and “a while” are often used interchangeably in informal writing, most style guides distinguish between them.

Examples: Awhile in a sentence

Examples: A while in a sentence

Let’s sit and rest awhile before continuing our hike.

It’s been a while since I last spoke to Kevin.

She decided to stay in bed and read awhile.

I’m looking for a job because I’ll graduate in a while.

He practiced awhile before the game.

The project will take a while to complete due to its complexity.

Awhile as an adverb

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.


US vs UK

Parts of speech

Rhetoric

Gray vs grey

Action verbs

Metaphor

Judgment or judgement

Stative verbs

Simile

Favour or favor

Transitive verbs

Alliteration

Fulfil or fulfill

Verbs

Assonance

Labor or labour

Nouns

Malapropism


Frequently asked question about awhile vs a while

Is it it’s been awhile or a while?

Awhile and a while are often confused, but they don’t mean the same thing.

It’s been a while is the correct expression. The noun phrase a while means “a period of time.”

Use the QuillBot Grammar Checker to automatically fix your mistakes for free.

Is it once in a while or once in awhile?

Awhile and a while are often confused, but they don’t mean the same thing.

Once in a while is the correct expression. The noun phrase a while means “a period of time.”

Use the QuillBot Grammar Checker to automatically fix your mistakes for free.

Is it for awhile or a while?

Awhile and a while are often confused, but they don’t mean the same thing.

For a while is the correct phrase.

  • The adverb awhile already carries the meaning “for,” so for awhile is never correct.
  • The noun phrase a while means “a period of time,” so “for a while” means “for a period of time.”

Awhile and for a while are synonyms.

Use the QuillBot Grammar Checker to automatically fix your mistakes for free.

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Julia Merkus

Julia has master's degrees in Linguistics and Language and speech pathology. Her expertise lies in grammar, language and speech disorders, foreign language learning, and child language acquisition.

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