A 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
Correct: We went to the park for a while, we played awhile, and then we went home
There. Easy, isn’t it?