Wordwatch Towers

A plain language guide to punctuation, grammar and writing well.

While or whilst?

with 5 comments

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Is there any difference between ‘while’ and ‘whilst’?

Look at the following example:

I waited for a while, then three came along at once.

In that sentence, you obviously wouldn’t be able to swap ‘while’ for ‘whilst’.

However, in most cases, there is no difference between the two words. You can write:

I whistle while I work.

or

I whistle whilst I work.

You can also use ‘while’ or ‘whilst’ to mean ‘whereas’ in sentences such as:

I want to stay while/whilst they all want to leave.

See Oxford Dictionaries’ definition of ‘while’ and ‘whilst’.

Commonly confused words and phrases

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5 Responses

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  1. While there is nothing “wrong” with whilst, quite a few newspapers (including the one I work for) have a house style guide that considers “whilst” a bit quaint and antiquated and insists we always change it to “while”…

    squirrelbasket

    11/04/2010 at 3:34 pm

    • Hello, there — that’s really interesting to hear. I always prefer ‘while’ to ‘whilst’ and advise people to choose the former if I’m asked — but purely because, to my ears, it sounds less formal/old-fashioned. I can’t resist, while you’re here, recommending your blog again. People who haven’t found it don’t know what they’re missing!

      Deborah

      11/04/2010 at 3:38 pm

  2. If you use “whilst” here in the US, you risk being teased and ostracized. People are likely to repeat it back to you, using our (weak) impression of a toffy accent. Probably the same reaction if you used “betwixt.” But “amongst” and “amidst,” for some reason, while not favored, don’t cause the same reaction.

    Michael Farrell

    11/04/2010 at 3:48 pm

    • That’s very interesting, too — so I’m guessing in your media, for example, ‘while’ would be favoured?

      Deborah

      11/04/2010 at 3:52 pm

      • No, while would be favored.

        Michael Farrell

        11/04/2010 at 5:37 pm


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