Along and Awhile

NOTE: All these articles are based on British grammar and the techniques I used to help myself, they are by no means definitive.

Sometimes English grammar likes to throw us some interesting words such as along versus a long and awhile versus a while. Why does it do this? I don’t actually know. It’s entirely possible it’s one of the rules created when British grammar was standardised that was meant to prove a person’s level of education. Yep, a large part of British grammar evolved so the upper classes could prove they were more educated than the lower classes. Almost the same reason formal table settings have so many different pieces of cutlery. But I’ve digressed from the point of the article.

So, we’ll begin with along/a long. I find it helps to think of ‘along’ referring to a measure of distance and ‘a long’ to a measure of time. For instance:

I walked along the road.

It took a long time.

As the time version has an extra space we could also think of it as ‘it takes a long time to write’?

However, we also have ‘along’ which means ‘together with’. This is always one word, so when we want to say ‘along with’ it always comes together. We can use the same rule for distance ‘along’ as well:

‘I walked along the road with them, we always walk together.’

And with that we’ve covered the three types of along/a long.

Where along/a long has distinct contexts awhile/a while is less clear because they both refer to the passage of time. It’s the construction of the sentence that makes the spelling different, unless you’re being poetical in which case you’re allowed to use awhile all the time because it’s more… poetic? It’s also an adverb, which people tend to forget.

Perhaps if we consider the idea that ‘awhile’ is more ‘poetic’ it might help us remember which way they go:

Let’s sit here awhile. (Poetic Adverb)

Let’s sit here for a while. (Not Poetic Noun)

We put a space because we’ve added an extra word to indicate what we’re going to do. No, I have no idea why that is either. So, when we’re being poetic we’re using less words so no space. When we’re not being poetic we have more words so we have a space.

Finally (for this article anyway) we have wait and await. Do we wait for someone or await them? When we’re talking informally we wait for them, await is the formal version of ‘wait/waiting for’, so when we’re not in a formal setting it’s always waiting. For example:

‘I await your reply.’ (Formal)

‘I’m waiting for you.’ (Informal)

‘I’m waiting to hear what you’ve got to say.’ (Informal)

We may also have ‘wait on’ as in ‘to wait on’ such as a waiter or waitress. Here it’s important to note that although we can use ‘wait on’ in place of await we can’t use await to mean wait staff waiting on someone.

‘I await your reply.’ (Formal)

‘I’m waiting on your reply.’ (Informal)

They waited on the customers. (Wait staff serving)

They awaited the customers. (This would mean they were waiting for the customers, not serving them)

With that you’ll have to wait for my next article. I hope.


P.S. A lot is always a lot and never alot.

Article Archive 1

NOTE: Each article series comes in five parts published between Monday and Friday. Check back tomorrow for the next part.

Published by Jesse

I'm a writer and academic specialising in fantasy fiction and creative writing theory. I'm allergic to pretentiously talking about fiction and aim to be unashamedly ‘commercial’. Surely all fiction is commercial anyway, or what’s the point in publishing it?

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