Grammar Check: Awhile or A While?

Posted on April 4, 2005

James J. Kilpatrick addresses an interesting grammar issue in his syndicated column: is it "awhile" or "a while"? Kilpatrick says (link no longer available) that "adverbs of time and place have been bothering writers and proofreaders since the 12th century, and the end is not in sight."

Usually, they're wedded. Sometimes, they're separated. It is not easy to find a pattern of consistent usage, but let us try.

The New York Times often seems to be stuck on the melded version: "Maj. Brown warned that it may take awhile to make an arrest."

Kilpatrick found a couple contradictory sources for how to handle "the awhile or a while" conundrum. He says that Morton Freeman writes in Treasury for Word Lovers to "Spell it as one word after a verb, two words after a preposition."

Kilpatrick also says Merriam-Webster "characteristically opts for anarchy." Merriam-Webster's entry on awhile usage says, "Follow your own feel for the expression and write it as one word when that seems right and as two words when that seems right."

So, there it is: clear as mud. It looks like it will be awhile until a consensus is reached on "a while".