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I've seen "awhile" defined as "for a time," and I've seen examples like "Go play awhile" and "stay awhile." But what about the phrases, "Do you want your salad awhile?" or "Would you like your coffee awhile or with your meal?" They seems to define "awhile" as "while you wait" instead of "for a time."

Do these phrases correctly use "awhile" or are they more in line with a colloquialism?

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The Associated Press Stylebook, used by most media outlets in the U.S., states: "He plans to stay awhile." "He plans to stay for a while." –  user20032 Apr 12 '12 at 19:50

8 Answers 8

up vote 7 down vote accepted

As suggested by Brandon Boone in a comment above, this is a Pennsylvania regional usage. More specifically, it's a feature of the Pennsylvania Dutch dialect of English. See wikipedia for a list of features of the dialect, including this one. This usage of "awhile" is relatively common in south central PA even among people who are not Amish or Mennonite, unlike some of the other items on the list. (I grew up in south central PA and recognize this usage, although I don't use it that way myself.)

For a more academic reference than Wikipedia, see section 2.2.6 of Vicki Anderson's Ph.D. Thesis.

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I have checked a few sources (dictionaries both British and American) but I haven't come up with any example for awhile to be used as in your second set of sentences, so I would like to know the context for those examples. Personally, I've never heard awhile being used as in the meantime, so I am inclined to believe it is either a colloquialism or a regional form.

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Might be a Pennsylvania thing. Here's another example: I was waiting for my wife to join me at the table for breakfast and she told me to "cut her grapefruit awhile." Meaning that she's coming, but in the meantime I should make myself useful. This is what really sparked the question. –  Brandon Boone Apr 12 '12 at 14:26
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Did she say "in" at all? As in "Do you want your salad in a while?" –  user14070 Apr 12 '12 at 17:18
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@JoshuaDrake, that's how I'd say it. If the usage is colloquial, I'd guess it's a shortened form of that expression. –  zpletan Apr 12 '12 at 18:57
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I have heard this as well (in Maryland, so perhaps its a regional thing) but I have always assumed that the speaker was confusing awhile with the more appropriate meanwhile. –  Michael Edenfield Apr 12 '12 at 21:32
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No one's "assuming" anything. The fact of the matter is that this particular usage of "awhile" at ends of sentences is a well-known feature of Pennsylvania Dutch influenced English in Lancaster county and nearby areas. It is not a confusion with "meanwhile" but rather a correct usage in that dialect. –  Noah Snyder Apr 13 '12 at 16:10

Awhile is far less common than [for] a while, which is what it means (for a short time).

OP's suggested usages would not be correct, since awhile on its own never means in a short time - to convey that sense the preposition "in" must be explicitly present.

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They are definitely colloquialisms, but quite understandable. They sound to me (in the UK) like Welsh- or Irish-like phrases.

The meaning is something like while you are waiting.

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I'm from south-central PA, and I only recently read that "awhile" used to mean "in the meantime" is almost seldom used outside of the region. It's used so commonly and naturally here. That is probably the most normal Pennsylvania Dutch colloquialism even to a native of the area; others are more obvious to insiders and outsiders, like "to outen the lights" and "warshing in the cold crickwarter" (written "washing in the cold creekwater"), neither of which I personally would say. Although this definition of "awhile" probably cannot be found in any standard English dictionary, it is irrefutable for Yorkers, Harrisburgers, Lancastrians, and Gettysburgers.

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There's an instructive usage note on this at TheFreeDictionaryOnline:

awhile
Usage Note: *Awhile*, an adverb, is never preceded by a preposition such as for, but the two-word form a while may be preceded by a preposition. In writing, each of the following is acceptable: stay awhile; stay for a while; stay a while (but not stay for awhile).

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a very similar note can be found in The New Oxford American Dictionary too –  Paola Apr 12 '12 at 14:27

Oxford Dictionary define awhile as follows: "for a short time."

For example, see the correct usage of awhile in the following sentence, which is very interesting:

The masculine singular personal pronoun may survive awhile longer as a generic term, it will probably be ultimately displaced by they.

The confusion you are referring derives from a misspelling of a while.

As noun, spell it as two words: "he rested for a while", "it took quite a while to learn this".

As an adverb, spell it as one: "he rested awhile".

Misuses are common: "She looked up at the sky for awhile [read: awhile or for a while], remembering her father's astronomy lesson." Deborah Ellis, Parvana's Journey (2004).

When the choice is between for a while and awhile, I prefer the latter.

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I would read "Would you like your coffee a while or with your meal?" to mean "Would you like to spend some time with your coffee, or should I bring it later?". And "Do you want your salad a while?" would mean "Do you want to linger over your salad?". I don't know this word "awhile", but I do know "[for] a while".

"Cut my grapefruit a while" might mean "Make yourself useful for the next several minutes and cut my grapefruit."

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