I’ve joined a writer’s forum that has critiquing workshops, and I’m merrily participating. Some of the work is really good. But I keep running across usages of the word “whilst”, which to me is old fashioned and outdated.

Many of the posters there have English as a second (or third) language, and are (sometimes clearly) using translation engines to post their work for review. Before commenting on their use of whilst, I thought I’d check to make sure I am correct. So...

Is whilst proper English, as in, “...whilst snow fell gently outside her window”? Is while a more appropriate word here? If it is proper, is it still in common use in other countries (other than the U.S.), or is it old fashioned and outdated for English everywhere?


3 Answers 3


My understanding is that 'whilst' is rarely used anywhere, but it's much more common in UK English than US English.

One quick link: https://blog.oxforddictionaries.com/2016/02/18/while-or-whilst/

  • Same goes for my understanding. (I'm not answering since english is my second language)
    – Liquid
    Oct 18, 2018 at 7:52

It's almost never used in verbal communications in the American English. It is often used in British English verbally. Both are acceptable in written communication, though American readers may find it pretentious at worst and "British" at best. In dialog, it can be used to denote someone with a British accent. Americans do know what is being stated (Actually, Americans are quite familiar with British idiomatic dialects and get a lot of humor out of the changes. This is not true with other English Dialects, like Scottish, Australian, and Kiwi. The former two, when thick, are another language entirely to Americans, and the later is "definitely not American, but we know it's odd enough to not be British. My Kiwi boyfriend has gotten responses of London, South Africa, and Wales to his accent.).


Just as the oxford dictionary link says (thanks @RamblingChicken), whilst is pretentious and archaic. I would add whilst is fair game for poetic usage.

It should only be used in dialogue when your character is being pretentious, archaic (including from another time or in time travel stories), or poetic. A 3rd person story narrator should not use whilst. A 1st person narrator might, if the author makes it clear the first person narrator is pretentious or archaic, but then some work must be done to make the rest of their delivery pretentious or archaic, and having researched this myself, it isn't easy to pull off.

  • 2
    Note that the blog mentions pretentious is in a US context, whilst in a UK context it would not be perceived as badly.
    – user172447
    Oct 18, 2018 at 12:26
  • 2
    @Orangesandlemons - Pretty much all UK idioms are considered pretentious in the US :D Oct 18, 2018 at 13:34