What are the difference between a while and awhile?

Few word pairs capture the idiosyncrasies (โ€œpeculiar characteristicsโ€) 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 โ€œa period or interval of timeโ€).

The one-word awhile is an adverb that means โ€œfor a short time or period.โ€ 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.