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While vs. Whilst: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Janet White || Published on November 5, 2023
"While" and "Whilst" both mean during the time that, but "While" is more commonly used in American English, whereas "Whilst" is archaic and more common in British English.

Key Differences

"While" and "Whilst" serve similar functions in language. Both can mean 'during the time that' or 'at the same time as.' For example, "While I was out," and "Whilst I was out," are interchangeable and signify the same duration of time when an event occurred.
From a historical perspective, "While" has been in use longer than "Whilst." The latter evolved as a variation of the former. Despite their origins, both words developed similar meanings, with "Whilst" becoming more prevalent in British English and "While" maintaining broader usage in both American and British contexts.
When it comes to modern usage, "While" is universally understood and accepted in both American and British English. "Whilst," on the other hand, can sound old-fashioned or overly formal, especially to American ears. Although "Whilst" is still used in some formal British contexts, "While" is generally more widespread.
In addition to denoting time, "While" can also be used to highlight contrast between two situations or statements, similar to the word "whereas." For example, "While I like coffee, my sister prefers tea." "Whilst" can be used in a similar manner, but it's less common.
Both "While" and "Whilst" can be used as conjunctions, prepositions, or adverbs, depending on the context of the sentence. Their adaptability showcases their linguistic versatility, although "While" is the preferred choice in most modern contexts, especially in American English.

Comparison Chart


During the time that; at the same time as.
Same as "While."

Historical Usage

Older in origin.
Evolved from "While."

Modern Usage

Predominant in American and British English.
Common in British English, archaic in American.

Additional Usage

Can denote contrast (similar to "whereas").
Less commonly used for contrast.

Parts of Speech

Conjunction, preposition, adverb.
Can also be a conjunction, preposition, adverb.

While and Whilst Definitions


During the time that.
She read a book while waiting.


Although; despite the fact that.
Whilst I understand your point, I disagree.


Although; despite the fact that.
While it's sunny, it's still cold outside.


During the time that.
She wrote notes whilst listening to the lecture.


At the same time as.
He listened to music while studying.


At the same time as.
The city sleeps whilst the countryside awakens.


During a particular period.
He traveled a lot while he was young.


Indicating contrast.
You saw movies, whilst I read books.


A period of time
Stay for a while.
Sang all the while. See Usage Note at awhile.


Throughout the time that.
He kept silent whilst the others chatted.


The time, effort, or trouble taken in doing something
The project wasn't worth my while.




As long as; during the time that
It was lovely while it lasted.


Often preceded by the: During the time; meanwhile.


In spite of the fact that; although
While that guitar may look nice, it's not a very good instrument.


Synonym of [[while#Conjunction


And on the contrary
The soles are leather, while the uppers are canvas.


During the whole, or until the end, of the time that; as long as, at the same time.


To spend (time) idly or pleasantly
While the hours away.


Within, or before the end, of the time that.


An uncertain duration of time, a period of time.
He lectured for quite a long while.
It’s a long while since anyone lived there, so it’s a ruin now.


Although; in contrast; whereas.


(US) an uncertain long period of time


Besides; in addition.


(Philippines) an uncertain short moment


Only if; provided that; as long as.


During the same time that.
He was sleeping while I was singing.
Driving while intoxicated is against the law.


Whilst the emperor lay at Antioch.


This case, while interesting, is a bit frustrating.
While I would love to help, I am very busy at the moment.


I'll wait while you've finished painting.


As long as.
While you're at school you may live at home.




To pass (time) idly.
I whiled away the hours whilst waiting for him to arrive


(transitive) To occupy or entertain (someone) in order to let time pass.


To elapse, to pass.


Alternative spelling or misspelling of wile.


Space of time, or continued duration, esp. when short; a time; as, one while we thought him innocent.
This mighty queen may no while endure.
[Some guest that] hath outside his welcome while,And tells the jest without the smile.
I will go forth and breathe the air a while.


That which requires time; labor; pains.
Satan . . . cast him how he might quite her while.
And so on us at whiles it falls, to claimPowers that we dread.


To cause to pass away pleasantly or without irksomeness or disgust; to spend or pass; - usually followed by away.
The lovely lady whiled the hours away.


To loiter.


During the time that; as long as; whilst; at the same time that; as, while I write, you sleep.
Use your memory; you will sensibly experience a gradual improvement, while you take care not to overload it.


Hence, under which circumstances; in which case; though; whereas.


Until; till.
I may be conveyed into your chamber;I'll lie under your bed while midnight.


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


Indicating contrast.
While you slept, I worked.


Which word is older in origin?

"While" predates "Whilst."

Can both words denote contrast?

Yes, though "While" is more commonly used for this purpose.

Are "While" and "Whilst" interchangeable?

Generally, yes, but "Whilst" is more formal and common in British English.

When would one use "Whilst" over "While"?

In formal contexts or when following British English conventions.

Is "Whilst" seen as old-fashioned?

In American English, yes. In British English, it's formal but not necessarily outdated.

Do they have similar grammatical functions?

Both can be conjunctions, prepositions, or adverbs.

How do the two words differ in pronunciation?

"While" rhymes with "mile," and "Whilst" has an "st" sound at the end.

Is "While" used to denote a period of time?

Yes, indicating something happening during that time.

Is "Whilst" preferred in any specific genres?

It may be found in historical or period literature.

Is "Whilst" used in American English?

Rarely. It's seen as archaic and overly formal.

Can "While" function as a preposition?

Yes, as in "while away the hours."

Which word is more prevalent in modern texts?

"While" is more universally used in modern contexts.

Can "While" be used in idioms?

Yes, like "once in a while."

How does one choose between the two?

Consider audience, region, formality, and personal style.

Do style guides have a preference?

American style guides typically prefer "While."

Are there any nuances in meaning between the two?

The core meanings are the same, but nuances arise from regional and stylistic preferences.

Does "Whilst" sound formal to British ears?

It's more formal than "While," but not overly so.

Which word is more prevalent in journalism?

"While" is more commonly used in journalistic writing.

Are there regions in the UK where "Whilst" is more common?

Usage can vary, but "Whilst" is generally accepted across the UK.

Is it incorrect to use "Whilst" in American English?

Not incorrect, but it may sound out of place or old-fashioned.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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