AskDefine | Define while

The Collaborative Dictionary

While \While\, n. [AS. hw[imac]l; akin to OS. hw[imac]l, hw[imac]la, OFries. hw[imac]le, D. wigl, G. weile, OHG. w[imac]la, hw[imac]la, hw[imac]l, Icel. hv[imac]la a bed, hv[imac]ld rest, Sw. hvila, Dan. hvile, Goth. hweila a time, and probably to L. quietus quiet, and perhaps to Gr. ? the proper time of season. [root]20. Cf. Quiet, Whilom.]
Space of time, or continued duration, esp. when short; a time; as, one while we thought him innocent. "All this while." --Shak. [1913 Webster] This mighty queen may no while endure. --Chaucer. [1913 Webster] [Some guest that] hath outside his welcome while, And tells the jest without the smile. --Coleridge. [1913 Webster] I will go forth and breathe the air a while. --Longfellow. [1913 Webster]
That which requires time; labor; pains. [Obs.] [1913 Webster] Satan . . . cast him how he might quite her while. --Chaucer. [1913 Webster] At whiles, at times; at intervals. [1913 Webster] And so on us at whiles it falls, to claim Powers that we dread. --J. H. Newman. [1913 Webster] The while, The whiles, in or during the time that; meantime; while. --Tennyson. Within a while, in a short time; soon. Worth while, worth the time which it requires; worth the time and pains; hence, worth the expense; as, it is not always worth while for a man to prosecute for small debts. [1913 Webster]
While \While\, v. i. To loiter. [R.] --Spectator. [1913 Webster]
While \While\, conj.
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 take care not to overload it. --I. Watts. [1913 Webster]
Hence, under which circumstances; in which case; though; whereas. [1913 Webster] While as, While that, during or at the time that. [Obs.] [1913 Webster]
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]
While \While\, v. t. [imp. & p. p. Whiled; p. pr. & vb. n. Whiling.] To cause to pass away pleasantly or without irksomeness or disgust; to spend or pass; -- usually followed by away. [1913 Webster] The lovely lady whiled the hours away. --Longfellow. [1913 Webster]

Word Net

while n : a period of indeterminate length (usually short) marked by some action or condition; "he was here for a little while"; "I need to rest for a piece"; "a spell of good weather"; "a patch of bad weather" [syn: piece, spell, patch]

Moby Thesaurus

albeit, although, amuse, as far as, as long as, at which time, beguile, bit, brighten, chronology, continuity, day, divert, duration, duree, during which time, elbow grease, enliven, entertain, exertion, fateful moment, hour, howbeit, instant, interval, juncture, kairos, lastingness, lighten, meantime, meanwhile, minute, moment, moment of truth, pains, period, point, pregnant moment, psychological moment, psychological time, season, space, space-time, span, spell, stage, stretch, tense, term, the future, the past, the present, the while, tide, time, time lag, timebinding, trouble, when, whereas, whet, whilst, wile





  • a UK /ʍaɪl/, /WaIl/
  • a US /waɪl/, /waIl/
  • Rhymes with: -aɪl


  1. A certain duration of time, a period of time.
    He lectured for quite a long while.


a certain duration of time, a period of time


  1. During the same time that.
    He was sleeping while I was singing.
  2. although
    This case, while interesting, is a bit frustrating.
  3. In the context of "in|_|Northern English dialect": until
    I'll wait while you finish painting.


during the same time that


  1. To pass time idly.

Derived terms

Related terms


to pass time idly
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".

While and whilst

Whilst is synonymous with while in standard British English and Australian English; in American English, it can be considered pretentious or archaic. In their style guides, modern publications on both sides of the Atlantic disapprove of its use (along with "amidst" and "amongst"), for example:
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".

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."

Notes and references

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