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Mar 29 2010   1:35PM GMT

“Awhile” or “a while?”

Ivy Wigmore Ivy Wigmore Profile: Ivy Wigmore

Which is correct?
Ransomware hasn’t been in the news for _______ but it seems to be making a comeback.
a. a while
b. awhile


Answer: a.

Explanation:

A while is an unspecified period of time; awhile means for a while and is usually combined with an action. For example:

When I learned I was the victim of a data kidnapping exploit, I just sat and banged my head on the keyboard awhile.

Or I could say:

When I learned I was the victim of a data kidnapping exploit, it was a while before I stopped banging my head against the keyboard.

Here’s a good explanation of awhile vs. a while and some more examples of use from The Grumpy Grammarian:

The test of which to use is to consider whether “for a while” may be used in the sentence where we intend to place (or have placed) the word awhile – without changing anything else.

Examples:
> “I’ll wait here awhile” is correct because we could also say, “I’ll wait here for a while.”
> “I’ll wait here for awhile” is not correct because we have actually used the word for twice, given that awhile = for a while: “I’ll wait here for for a while.”
> “I’ll be there in awhile” is not correct because we would not say, “I’ll be there IN FOR a while.”
> “This may take awhile” is not correct because “This may take for a while” is not idiomatic English.
> “My mother is staying awhile” is correct because we could also say, “My mother is staying for a while.”

The two-word noun phrase (a while) is probably more often the correct choice than is the one-word adverb (awhile). Certainly, most misuses of a while / awhile involve using awhile where a while is the appropriate construction.

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