Friday, August 12, 2016
Correct use of ‘a while’ and ‘awhile’
Misuse and misspelling are common problems encountered when constructing sentences. Most of the time this is avoidable, but there are certain situations when spelling and pronunciation add to the confusion. Words that sound the same even if they have different uses are known as homophones. There are hundreds of homophones in the English language and in this article we are going to discuss the difference between ‘awhile’ and ‘a while.’
These words are special kind of homophone because the appearance and spelling are the same. They are separated by just a tiny space yet their functions are different. It is necessary to keep track of these differences to maintain clarity when writing.
How is ‘a while’ used?
‘A while’ is not a single word. It is composed of two separate words, where ‘a’ acts as the article and ‘while’ acts as a noun. It means an indefinite period of time. The formation of these words is known as a noun phrase, which means a phrase with the primary function of a noun.
Here are some examples: “I will be on a vacation leave for a while.” “It has been a while since the last time I ate barbecue.” “The customer waited for a while before his order is served.” Take note that when we use ‘a while’ in a sentence, a preposition (for and has been) usually comes first, such as in the examples above.
In these examples, we can see that ‘a while’ acts as a substitute for an indefinite period of time. As an article-noun combination, ‘a while’ can be replaced with other article-noun combinations that has a specific time and date. Using the same examples above, we are going to replace ‘a while’ with other article-noun combinations:
“I will be on a vacation for a long time.” “It has been a month since the last time I ate barbecue.” “The customer waited for a few minutes before his order is served.” We can see in these examples that the entire sentence still makes sense even if ‘a while’ is replaced with other combinations.
How is ‘awhile’ used?
It is important to remember that ‘awhile’ is used as an adverb and it is a single word. An adverb modifies a verb and this is the only function of ‘awhile.’ However, it has the same meaning with ‘a while’ because it also means ‘an unspecified or indefinite amount of time yet it cannot come after a preposition.
So when we say, “Can you please stay with me for awhile?” this is incorrect because ‘awhile’ cannot come after the preposition ‘for.’ We can rather say “I asked him to stay and wait awhile.”