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Is there a difference between "awhile" and "a while"? If there is, what is it? I've been wondering this for awhile, but now I actually need the answer.

  • The main difference is that one has a blank in it and the other doesn't. But "awhile" is an even more indefinite time interval that "a while" is. Your sentence above would probably be sightly better as "I've been wondering this for a while, but...", since you're referring to a time interval whose duration at least you are aware of, if no one else is. – Hot Licks Dec 16 '14 at 16:44
  • Related: Correct usage of "awhile" – Matt E. Эллен Dec 17 '14 at 15:43
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Awhile is an adverb:

Bear with me awhile.

A while is the use of the noun "while":

We've been here for a while.

So in your example you can use either:

I've been wondering this awhile.

Or:

I been wondering for a while.

  • 1
    And not to be confused with at while. – tchrist Dec 17 '14 at 14:28
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    All combinations of for a while, for awhile, a while, and awhile can be used as adverbial phrases, with identical sense and usage. The for is optional, and a while is indistinguishable from awhile in speech, so they have no differences in meaning, or in grammar. Use which ever ones you prefer; all are correct and colloquial, and nothing depends on how you say or spell it. – John Lawler Dec 17 '14 at 19:40
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    I came here because I thought "once in a while" was correct phrasing, even though the editor in Google Mail (or is it Chrome's fault?) suggested I use "awhile". – L S Apr 7 '17 at 15:41
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    Same here, @LS. It looks as if Chrome is wrong, "Once in awhile" is not correct, as this answer (and John Lawler's comment) might lead one to believe. – Bob Stein Jun 19 '17 at 12:53
4

While the meanings are similar, they are different parts of speech and are not interchangeable. From Grammar Girl (emphasis mine):

...awhile and a while both describe a vague length of time, but you use the one-word version when you need an adverb and the two-word version when you need a noun.

To tell the difference, you can test your sentence with other nouns and adverbs. If you can replace a while with another article and noun such as an hour or a year, you know you want the two-word version. If you can replace awhile with another adverb such as quietly, longer, or briefly, you know you want the one-word version.

Wrong:

It's been awhile since I've heard that song.

It's been longer since I've heard that song.

Go play a while.

Go play an hour.

Right:

It's been a while since I've heard that song.

It's been a year since I've heard that song.

Go play awhile.

Go play quietly.

Go play for a while.

Go play for an hour.

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