'Whilst' or 'While': What's the Difference?

By
Amy Gilmore,
updated on
May 8, 2023

The question of whether to use 'whilst' or 'while' comes up frequently. So, if you have been wondering which is correct, you are not alone.

If you need a quick answer, here it is: 

  • 'Whilst' is a conjunctive form of the word 'while.'
  • You use 'whilst' to merge two independent clauses into a compound sentence. 
  • 'While' can be a noun, conjunction, verb, or preposition, depending on its function in a sentence. 
  • The noun form of 'while' refers to a period of time. 

Now that you have the quick answer look at the rest of the guide for a deeper understanding. You will find valuable information like definitions, usage tips, and sample sentences in it. So, by the time you finish reading this, you should be able to use 'whilst' and 'while' like an expert.

How to Use 'Whilst' or 'While'

When it comes to the differences between 'whilst' and 'while,' you can use the two interchangeably sometimes because both words have the same meaning, and they can both be conjunctive.

So, how do you know which to use and when?

  • Use 'while' or 'whilst' as a conjunctive.

For example, you could say:

Last week I stayed up all night whilst I worried about the events that would take place in the morning. 

You could also say something like:

I will work on the project while you make dinner. 

As you can see in both examples, the words combine two sentences when you are using 'while' or 'whilst' as conjunctions; you can use them interchangeably.

  • Use 'while' if you are using the noun form.

For example, I might say something like:

I am not in a hurry. I can wait for a while if that helps. 

  • Use 'while' as a verb.

For example, you might hear someone say:

While away, I will not have access to my phone. So, you must contact someone on my team if you need something. 

In the above example, some people may mistakenly use 'whilst.' However, that is incorrect because 'while' is the correct verb form of the word.

  • Use 'while' as a preposition.

For example, you could say something like:

                      Waiting while she finishes her phone call always irritates me. 

As you can see in the above example, you should not use 'whilst' because you are not using the conjunction form of the word 'while.'

When to Use 'While' or 'Whilst'

There are many meanings of 'while,' 'whilst,' there are only a few ways to use 'whilst.' You should use 'while' in formal communications 'while' writing to an American English-speaking audience.

Definition of 'Whilst': What Does 'Whilst' Mean?

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, 'whilst' is a conjunction of the word 'while' used primarily in British English style writing that means:

  • Both independent clauses in the compound sentence took place or should take place at the same time.

For example:

The children are supposed to be quiet 'whilst' the teacher grades the papers.

It can also mean:

  • Two things are, will, or should happen simultaneously

You need to watch the timer carefully 'whilst' you colour your hair.

You will notice that the second sentence utilizes the British English spelling of color. When you are writing to a British English-speaking audience, the correct conjunction of 'while' is 'whilst.'

Synonyms and Similar Words

  • While
  • When
  • As
  • As long as
  • Notwithstanding
  • So long as
  • Whereas

Definition of 'While': What Does 'While' Mean?

According to the same dictionary, 'while' means:

  • An indefinite but typically short period

For example:

We will only be gone for a little 'while.'

It can also mean:

  • An undefined effort

For example:

It wouldn't be worth my 'while' to start that project at this late hour.

  • When

For example:

'While' we work on the project, stay out of the way.

  • Although

For example:

'While' we need you at work, we can manage without you for a day or two.

Similar Words and Synonyms

  • During
  • So long as
  • As long as
  • Whilst
  • If
  • But
  • Because
  • And
  • Bit
  • Stretch
  • Spell

Phrases Containing 'While'

  • Whistle while you work
  • While you were out
  • After a while
  • In a while
  • Worth your while
  • Give it a while
  • Chill for a while
  • Sit down for a while

Pronunciation: What Do 'Whilst' and 'While'

By now, you are probably wondering how to pronounce these two words.

So, here is a simple guide:

To pronounce 'whilst' properly, use the phonetic spelling

WIEL-ST

When pronouncing 'while,' use the phonetic spelling:

WIEL

As you can see, the only difference in the pronunciations is the ST-sound at the end of 'whilst.'

Examples of 'Whilst' and 'While' Used in a Sentence

You know the definition, pronunciation, and ways to use these two words. Now, look at the examples to ensure you know how to write them in a sentence.

Whilst

  • We will go to our favourite whilst you finish your homework.
  • I wish you would honour my wishes whilst we are working together.
  • You have to finish your chores whilst your sister does her homework.
  • We always sing whilst we cook dinner.
  • The boss golfs on Fridays whilst the employees are working overtime.

 While

  • While your grades are better than average, they must improve if you want to get into a top university.
  • We worked while they relaxed.
  • We will get it done after a while.
  • How will you manage to go that long while without food?
  • Stand right here while I call your mother.

Final Advice On Using 'Whilst' or 'While'

Now you have all the information you need to know to use these two words properly. But before you go, here is a brief recap:

  • 'Whilst' is a conjunction of the word 'while'
  • You can use 'whilst' and 'while' as conjunctions to merge two independent clauses into a compound sentence. 
  • 'While' can be a noun, conjunction, preposition, or verb. 
  • 'While' means an indefinite period, despite, simultaneously, although, and when. 

With so many usages of 'while,' it can be challenging to remember exactly how to use some words. So, if these words trip you up in the future, you can always come back here for a quick refresh.

You should also review our other guides on confusing words to learn about many other words and phrases people often find challenging when learning English or working to become a better writer.

Written By:
Amy Gilmore
Amy Gilmore is one of the lead freelance writers for WritingTips.org. She has been a professional writer and editor for the past eight years. She developed a love of language arts and literature in school and decided to become a professional freelance writer after a demanding career in real estate. Amy is constantly learning to become a better writer and loves sharing tips with other writers who want to do the same.

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