While

While and whilst are conjunctions whose primary meaning is "during the time that". An example is:

:The days were hot "while" we were on vacation.:I read a magazine "whilst" I was waiting.

"While" and "whilst" can nowadays legitimately be used in the contrastive sense of "although" or "whereas", provided that it is not ambiguous (although some commentators, such as Eric Partridge, have frowned upon such use):

:"While" Sally plays, Sue works.

This sentence can mean either "During the time that Sally plays, Sue works" or "Although Sally plays, Sue works".

"Fowler's Modern English Usage" disapproves of several uses of "while". At times it is inappropriately used as a conjunctive: actual conjunctions such as "and" should be used instead. Its usage as "elegant variation" is also discouraged, as it is masquerading as a "formal word". ["while": "Fowler's Modern English Usage", Second Edition, ed. Sir Ernest Gowers 1965 and 1983, and "Pocket Fowler's Modern English Usage". Ed. Robert Allen. Oxford University Press, 1999]

While and whilst

"Whilst" is synonymous with "while" in standard British English and Australian English; in American English and Canadian English, it can be considered pretentious or archaic.

"Whilst" is chiefly used in British English and Australian English. "Whilst" is synonymous with "while" in standard English, although to many it sounds slightly old-fashioned, and is rare or archaic. ["while" gets 1.5 billion Google hits compared to the 74 million that "whilst" gets. (July 14, 2008)] In their style guides, some modern publications on both sides of the Atlantic disapprove of its use (along with "amidst" and "amongst"), for example:
* Times Online Style Guide: [http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2941-583,00.html] : "while (not whilst)"
* Guardian Style Guide: [http://www.guardian.co.uk/styleguide/page/0,5817,184822,00.html] : "while not whilst"

Other meanings

In some Northern English and Scottish English dialects, "while" (but not "whilst") usually takes the meaning of "until", as in: "I shall wait while you are ready."

ee also

*Linguistic prescription

Notes and references


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  • while — while, whilst 1. Both forms are used in BrE, but whilst is not much used in AmE. There is no distinction in usage as regards meaning, although varying grammatical patterns are noted below. 2. The word is a conjunction, and its primary sense is… …   Modern English usage

  • While — While, n. [AS. hw[=i]l; akin to OS. hw[=i]l, hw[=i]la, OFries. hw[=i]le, D. wigl, G. weile, OHG. w[=i]la, hw[=i]la, hw[=i]l, Icel. hv[=i]la a bed, hv[=i]ld rest, Sw. hvila, Dan. hvile, Goth. hweila a time, and probably to L. quietus quiet, and… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • while — [hwīl, wīl] n. [ME < OE hwil, akin to Ger weile < IE base * kweye , to rest > L quies, quiet] a period or space of time [a short while] conj. 1. during or throughout the time that [we waited while she dined] 2. at the same time that… …   English World dictionary

  • while — ► NOUN 1) (a while) a period of time. 2) (a while) for some time. 3) (the while) at the same time; meanwhile. 4) (the while) literary during the time that. ► …   English terms dictionary

  • While — While, conj. 1. During the time that; as long as; whilst; at the same time that; as, while I write, you sleep. While I have time and space. Chaucer. [1913 Webster] Use your memory; you will sensibly experience a gradual improvement, while you… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • While as — While While, conj. 1. During the time that; as long as; whilst; at the same time that; as, while I write, you sleep. While I have time and space. Chaucer. [1913 Webster] Use your memory; you will sensibly experience a gradual improvement, while… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • While — While, prep. Until; till. [Obs. or Prov. Eng. & Scot.] [1913 Webster] I may be conveyed into your chamber; I ll lie under your bed while midnight. Beau. & Fl. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • while — while, wile, beguile, fleet mean to pass time, especially leisure time, without being bored. One whiles or wiles away a space of time by causing it to be filled by something pleasant, diverting, or amusing {they can while away an hour very… …   New Dictionary of Synonyms

  • while — [conj1] as long as although, at the same time, during, during the time, in the time, throughout the time, whilst; concept 799 while [conj2] even though albeit, although, howbeit, much as, though, when, whereas; concept 544 while [n] time interval …   New thesaurus

  • while I'm at it — ˌwhile you re/I m etc. ˈat it idiom used to suggest that sb could do sth while they are doing sth else • ‘I m just going to buy some postcards.’ ‘Can you get me some stamps while you re at it?’ Main entry: ↑whileidiom …   Useful english dictionary


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