While or Whilst?

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While or Whilst?

If you're British, you can use "while" or "whilst" interchangeably. If you're American (or writing to Americans), use "while."

More about "While" and "Whilst"

Americans find "whilst" quaint, old-fashioned, or literary. Most Brits, on the other hand, will swap happily between "while" and "whilst," although some Brits also find "whilst" a little outdated.

while or whilst?

Is There a Difference between "While" and "Whilst"?

Grammarians often discuss two differences between "while" and "whilst," but neither of these ideas is well supported. Nevertheless, for completeness, here they are:

Claimed Difference 1: The Time Factor. Some grammarians engaged in the "while-whilst" debate claim that, in the meaning "during the time that" or "at the same time as," "whilst" should be used for a short period of time, and "while" should be used for a longer period of time. For example:
  • Swim while the weather permits.
  • (Some claim you should use "while" for a long period of time.)
  • Swim whilst the tide is rising.
  • (They also claim you should use "whilst" for a short period of time.)
Building on this idea, they assert that "whilst" is like "when," and "while" is like "during." Some even try to formalize this idea a little more, stating that "while" should be used with the past progressive tense. For example:
  • While she was swimming, the seagulls stole her lunch.
  • ("Was swimming" is an example of the past progressive tense.)
(Claimed Difference 2) The "Although" Issue. Of course, "while" and "whilst" can also mean "although." For example:
  • While/whilst I am a strong swimmer, I will not enter these waters.
Some claim that, when you mean "although," only "while" can be used. But, you will also hear it said that only "whilst" can be used for "although." Neither of these claims is well supported, and "while" and "whilst" are interchangeable in this meaning too.

"While" As a Noun or Verb

"While" and "whilst" are not always interchangeable. They are only interchangeable when they are used as conjunctions (i.e., in the meanings outlined above). "While" can also be a noun or a verb. "Whilst" cannot. As a noun, "while" means "a period of time." As a verb, it means "to pass time" (usually at a leisurely pace). For example:
  • I lived there for a while.
  • (Here, "while" is a noun.)
  • She used to while away the hours in the meadow.
  • (In this example, "while" is a verb.)

It's Different for Americans, Australians, Brits, and Canadians

Canadians and Americans, use "while" unless you're trying to add a sense of the old fashioned.

Brits and Australians, use whichever one you want, but if you need to play it safe, use "while" unless you deliberately want to add a sense of the old fashioned.
The Bottom Line


The bottom line is that "while" and "whilst" are interchangeable (if you can live with the risk that most () or a few () of your readers will find "whilst" outdated).

The final advice: If you're unsure which to use, use "while" (especially if you're an American).
Interactive Exercise
Here are three randomly selected questions from a larger exercise, which can be edited, printed to create an exercise worksheet, or sent via email to friends or students.

See Also

adverse or averse? affect or effect? appraise or apprise? avenge or revenge? bare or bear? complement or compliment? dependant or dependent? discreet or discrete? disinterested or uninterested? e.g. or i.e.? envy or jealousy? imply or infer? its or it's? material or materiel? poisonous or venomous? practice or practise? principal or principle? tenant or tenet? who's or whose? What are conjunctions? Among or amongst List of easily confused words