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Which one would be correct: I haven't moved in awhile or for awhile when referring to traffic- i need a clearer explanation for- for awhile and in awhile

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  • The correct form is "I'm stuck here in this damned traffic!" This is not a situation where you'd need to write a formal letter, and after not moving for 20 minutes you're apt to be thinking of all sorts of ways to express your displeasure. You'll need them all, so no sense in trying to select the one perfect phrase.
    – Hot Licks
    Jun 10, 2015 at 21:58

3 Answers 3

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The correct form should be "for a while".

"In a while" is used to point out one or more points of time in a given period (when).

e.g.:

A1) I played cards once in a while (, but did it more often before).

A2) In a while I'll leave this place.

First example: Referring to how often I did it in the period of time.

Second example: Referring to the point in time I'll leave in the period.

"For a while" refers to the period of time as a whole (how long).

e.g.:

B1) I slept for a while.

B2) I was unable to sleep for a while.

In this examples the thing you do or do not does not change in the period of time.

An example that shows the two meanings:

C1) I will play soccer for a while. (how long)

C2) I will play soccer in a while. (when)

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  • This is a good explanation, especially point C where the difference is very important- but you will hear colloquially in American English the use of for/in interchangeably in the example you gave. People will commonly say (when in traffic) I haven't moved for a while. or I haven't moved in a while..
    – jdf
    Jun 10, 2015 at 21:17
  • @jdfLemon Yes, but also both examples you gave are correct. If you have not moved for a while you also did not move in a while. People just do not think about the different implications. I dislike this, especially in my native tongue (German). One example is, we ( I must admit, I also) often do not distinguish between our words for when and if. We just use when. Most do not even notice this (like here for/in a while). In English I possibly miss the woods for all my trees, where the woods and trees are my mistakes. :-)
    – Daniel
    Jun 10, 2015 at 21:29
  • That is very interesting, I am native English speaker, and would likely use 'in' in this situation but I have no reason for it and certainly wouldn't think about the implications, but I totally understand why you would dislike that. I speak Spanish and Italian also, both of which have less prepositions than English and that difference was very difficult for me to understand while learning them since there is no direct translation from one preposition to the other - it is more based on the situation and meaning, as is the case here.
    – jdf
    Jun 10, 2015 at 21:35
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    “I played cards once or twice in a while” ← This sentence is completely ungrammatical to me. Once in a while is a set phrase, but “once or twice in a while” is completely unparseable. Jun 10, 2015 at 21:42
  • @jdfLemon I should be more precise here. :-) I dislike, not being precise, if I could be. In English I normally do not even see this, if it is not asked as in this question. In German I more often realize how imprecisely I and others use our language when on the contrary it could be used very precisely. In this case (for/in a while regarding traffic) it does not really matter, since there is almost no room for misunderstandings, but it might lead to a wrong use on other occasion. In German I can see and do mourn this progress/tendency. Sometimes it even causes confusion.
    – Daniel
    Jun 10, 2015 at 21:52
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You should also understand the difference between a while (with space) and awhile. This post does a good job of explaining but I will summarize.

A while is a noun phrase meaning 'a period or interval of time'.

Awhile, is an adverb meaning 'for a short time or period'.

The adverb 'awhile' cannot follow a preposition, but you can re-work a sentence to use either properly and not have the meaning changed drastically.

I haven't moved for a while - means you have been stationary for a period of time.

I have been here awhile - means you have been stationary here for a period of time.

If your question was just about in vs for in the noun usage, Daniel did a good job explaining that above.

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These have the same meaning to me, but that is my opinion; I don't have a reference to point you to.

However, I will note that "awhile" should be two words: "haven't moved in a while" or "haven't moved for a while." I hope this helps!

See also this related question: "In a while" vs. "for a while"

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