|Let us go out on a boat awhile…perhaps for a long while|
If you want a laugh at your humble problem-words blogger, here's your chance. I misuse awhile all the time. I know, I checked.
Both of these sound-alikes go back to the Old English an hwile, meaning a while, the same as its descendant, showing this has been around awhile. I'll get into derivation more in a minute, now for usage.
A while means a time, an interval, and nothing more than that. (It's a noun phrase; the word while on its own is a conjunction, noun or verb, but we won't get into that here.) So we can say:
⦁ You've been reading me for a while (a time),
⦁ It took a while (a time) for me to write this,
⦁ It's been a while (a time) since my last one,
⦁ I had to wait quite a while (a time),
⦁ And more.
Awhile, meanwhile, is an adverbial phrase meaning for a while, or for a short time. So we can say stay awhile (for a time), wait awhile (for a time), I slept awhile (for a time), and so on. Note that, being adverbial, it will most often follow immediately after a verb.
Back to derivation, while goes back to the Old English hwil, and on back to the Indo-European *qweje-, meaning to rest. Other words that have come down from that ancient root include quiet and tranquil.
And if you look at all the usages above, none of them imply a lot of action. There's a certain suggestion of repose. You can see usages like I punched him for a while, but verbs implying waiting, resting, and so on are more common.
So I hope I've cleared this up for you. I also hope I've finally gotten correct usage cleared up for me. It can leave me annoyed awhile to know I've been using this wrong for such a long while.
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