Thursday, May 3, 2012

Grammar Daze: A While vs. Awhile

My past few weeks have been stuffed full of writing and editing. I'm still writing Rising Book 2, and I've been doing my freelance editing in between. I'm on deadlines all around, but with all the editing I've been doing, I figured it would be a good opportunity to do another Grammar Daze, since it's been a while since I've done one.

Speaking of "a while," that happens to be the subject of today's post.

A While vs. Awhile

A While is a noun. It's a period of time.

Awhile is an adverb, and it means "for a while."

There are a couple of ways to test which one we need.

Test #1:

You can replace "awhile/a while" with an adverb and see if it works. If it works, you need the adverb, "awhile." If it doesn't work, you need the noun, "a while."


1. Lie down awhile.

This is correct. We could use another adverb here. We could say: "Lie down quietly." And it makes sense, so we know we need to use the adverb awhile.

2. I'm going out for a while.

This is correct. We could not use an adverb here. We couldn't say "I'm going out for a quietly."

Remember: An adverb (words like awhile, quietly, happily, peacefully) can never be the object of a preposition (words like with, for, on, under).  So you can never, ever say "for awhile." If you have the word for in there, you have to use the noun: for a while.

This is another way to figure out whether to use "a while" or "awhile."

Test #2:

"Awhile" already has "for" in its meaning. You can try to put "for a while" in a sentence. If you can use "for a while" then you can use the word "awhile." If it doesn't make sense, you need "a while."


1. I'll be awhile.

This is incorrect, because if we say "I'll be for a while" it doesn't make sense. You need the noun: I'll be a while. (This is also where we could substitute another adverb and see that it would not make sense: "I'll be happily.")

2. I'll be over there awhile.

This is correct, because if we say "I'll be over there for a while" it makes sense. (This is also where we could substitute another adverb and see that it would make sense: "I'll be over there happily.") This means we could also reword the sentence to use the noun if we wanted to: I'll be over there for a while.

Any questions? Thoughts? Have I completely confused you?


  1. Thanks, I didn't know this so it's very helpful.

  2. AWESOME. I've never had this explained in such clear terms before. Thanks for this, Laura! :D

    1. Oh, yay, I'm glad it seemed clear! I always worry I'm going to try to explain something and I'll get all confusing.

  3. I so screw this up all the time. Thanks for the quick tips! : )

    1. This is one that I had to look up every time I wrote it for the longest time. English is so complicated!

  4. I avoid using awhile at all costs!

    1. I hardly ever use it--I don't know why; I think for some reason it looks awkward to me, even though it's not.

  5. omg...this is because of all the mix-ups in my manuscript, isn't it? XD

    1. LOL, no, it is not. ;) It's just one that comes up a lot in tons of manuscripts--and one that I used to have hard time remembering how to explain!

  6. (quickly scrambles to go fix this in manuscript) Oops. I was a little confused, but now I get it. :) I'm glad that you are getting some work on Rising Book 2 done! I am super duper excited for it!

    1. It's one of those sets of words that used to throw me off a lot.

      I'm glad, too! I cannot WAIT for Rising 2 to be done. Then I'll get to be all excited and nervous about people reading it. ;)

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