Which Is It?
by Cherie Tucker
When words sound the same and are almost spelled the same, it is sometimes difficult to remember which one to use correctly. The difference between a while and awhile often causes writers to pause. The solution is to remember that the single word awhile is an adverb and is used to describe an action.
He waited awhile for the bus, but it never came.
The two-word combination is required because the word while is a noun and requires the adjective a.
It took a while for the bus to come, but he was happy he waited.
The main clue comes from The Gregg Reference Manual, as usual. There are always two words, it tells us, if while follows a preposition.
Stir the batter for a while to distribute the walnuts.
That way there is always room for an adjective to be inserted.
Dinner will be ready in a little while, dear.
Think about that awhile. It will come to you after a while.
Cherie Tucker, owner of GrammarWorks, has taught writing basics to professionals since 1987, presenting at the PNWA conference. She currently teaches Practical Grammar for Editors at the University of Washington’s Editing Certification program and edits as well. GrammarWorks@msn.com.