I've been meaning to write this post for a while, because the difference between awhile and a while has plagued me for years. After spending a while looking into their meanings and usages, I think I've got it down.
In a while, you may have it locked down too!
Awhile vs. A While
Awhile is an adverb that means "for a while." The obvious question, what does "a while" mean?
The while in a while is a noun that means "a period of time." If you can swap out a while with a period of time, then you're likely dealing with the noun while.
Let's go through a few examples:
Correct: He drank awhile after running five miles.
Incorrect: He drank a while after running five miles.
Correct: The best way to find the answer is to think for a while about the problem.
Incorrect: The best way to find the answer is to think for awhile about the problem.
Correct: You said you would sing awhile a while ago.
Incorrect: You said you would sing a while awhile ago.
One trick for keeping them straight is to remember awhile is an adverb and while is a noun. If we think awhile about their differences, then it shouldn't take more than a while to figure out when to use which.