MAKE:TNT Tools 'n' Tips

While Away the Hours

by Arwen O'Reilly Griffith


MAKE's managing editor, Shawn Connally, pointed out the following grammar problem:

When “awhile” is spelled as a single word, it is an adverb meaning “for a time” (“stay awhile”); but when “while” is the object of a prepositional phrase, like “Lend me your monkey wrench for a while,” the “while” must be separated from the “a.” (But if the preposition “for” were lacking in this sentence, “awhile” could be used in this way: “Lend me your monkey wrench awhile.”)

What gives?

Well, the reason for this seems mostly to be convention and simple evoluton over time. The Word Maven over at the Random House Dictionary site points out that sometimes both usages are correct, depending on whether you see the sentence as employing an adverb modifying "waiting" or a noun phrase (a determiner plus a noun).

The Maven's advice is to plug in the phrase "for a short time" in place of the questionable form, keeping in mind that most usage is debatable and both versions have historical precedent.

Sigh. No easy answers for those of us with monkey wrenches.