What are the difference between a while and awhile?

Few word pairs capture the idiosyncrasies (“peculiar characteristics”) of the English language like a while and awhile do. Both of these terms are expressions of time, but one is written with a space while the other is one word.

These two terms represent different parts of speech. The two-word expression a while is a noun phrase, consisting of the article a and the noun while (which means “a period or interval of time”).

The one-word awhile is an adverb that means “for a short time or period.” Although these definitions are similar (and although the terms can sometimes be used interchangeably), there are a few simple rules that are helpful in keeping them straight.