Let’s talk about this for a while….

awhileA few people…no…some people… Who am I kidding? A lot of people seem to get awfully confused over ‘for a while’ and ‘awhile’. It’s one of those mix-ups I used to utter a sotto voce tut-tut over whenever I came across it in my review books, but I’ve seen the error so much lately, increasingly so, my discreet tut-tutting has developed into a bellowing ‘Grrrr’.

‘Awhile’ is an adverb (a word that modifies the meaning of an adjective, verb, or other adverb) meaning ‘for a while’.

‘A while’ is a noun meaning ‘a period of time’. So, for a while means ‘for a period of time’. Using ‘for awhile’ is in effect saying ‘for for a while’.

Try replacing ‘awhile’ with ‘for a while’:

Let’s stay here awhile OR Let’s stay here for a while

But: Let’s stay here for awhile is incorrect. This translates as Let’s stay here for for a while.

Correct: Let’s take the children to the park for a while (Let’s take the children to the park for a period of time).

Incorrect: Let’s take the children to the park for awhile. Literally translated this would read: Let’s take the children to the park for for a while.

You could also try substituting ‘awhile’ with another adverb to determine if you are using it correctly:

I walked awhile

I walked quickly/I walked slowly (but had you said ‘I walked for awhile’, then I walked for quickly makes no sense at all.)

A while can be accompanied by a preposition:

For a while, a while ago, in a while

You could not therefore say:

I visited Paris awhile ago. The literal meaning would be nonsense: I visited Paris for a while ago.

Correct: I visited Paris a while ago.

It has been a while since I visited Paris.

So, the best, virtually foolproof way to figure this out is to try replacing ‘awhile’ with ‘for a while’: if it makes no sense, it’s incorrect.

Correct: I went to see my sister for a while

Incorrect: We discussed where to plant the roses for awhile

Incorrect: We’ll be going to the movies in awhile

Incorrect: I won’t be moving house, at least not for awhile

Incorrect: Once in awhile, I treat myself to a nice big glass of red wine

Correct: The children were asleep, so I sat and down and read a book for a while

And finally…

Correct: We went to the park for a while, we played awhile, and then we went home

There.  Easy, isn’t it?

Author: Cathy Speight

Reviewer Cathy Speight is British and lives in England. The Kindle revived her passion for reading and after stumbling on a Facebook group of independent authors, she now does her best to encourage and assist indies as much as possible. Books by indie author form the majority of her collection. Cathy shares her views on the books she has read on her blog.

25 thoughts on “Let’s talk about this for a while….”

  1. Genius! I think I’ve been doing it right, then, but maybe I’ve seen it done wrong so often lately that I’ve been sexond-guessing myself. I’ll have to think on it awhile. 😉 Thanks, Cathy!

  2. Writers should have a basic understanding of the parts of speech. However, many writers don’t grasp the importance of mastering grammar and punctuation. In American English, periods and commas always go inside quotation marks. Yet a lot of writers place periods and commas outside the quotes, the way that you Brits do. I think that’s where the confusion originates. It’s challenging to be a good writer, regardless of what side of the Atlantic you live on!

  3. Interestingly, Linda, I read quite a debate about the periods and commas in/out of quote marks…amongst you Americans (not a Brit in sight). It’s not cut and dried, it would appear. Many of you across the pond, it seems, do not like to put them outside the quote marks. To them, and I quote, it ‘just seems unnatural’.

  4. As for me, I have simply quit using “awhile”, as it confuses me and my readers. Thanks for the interesting lesson. 😀

  5. Pondering on it all for a while and will redetermine where to put my commas after quotations marks—I’m originally from the British side of the fence, but have adapted to the US style. It takes me a while to finally place my comma in its final resting place.

  6. Of course! So I guess I should disable Autocorrect and then have the whole US world coming down on my head. Ha ha! I suffered intensely after allowing an Australian “expert” edit my book while I was visiting Sydney. The entire formatting, including page length, was changed, which led to my having to pay a US formatter. He used inDesign, with which I’m not familiar, and I lost all control of my work for ages…long story with a happy ending. I’ve published successfully, but oh, what a journey!

  7. Thank you for this, Cathy. I’ve actually written very strange sentences to avoid using awhile or for a while because I was uncertain of the proper usage! As always, your help is much appreciated :))

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