While versus Whilst—Getting Our Facts Straight

There has recently been an abundance of confusion all over the internets concerning the usage of while and whilst, and how they differ from each other. This article was written to give a solid resolution and clear up any confusion that may exist.

While is much more commonly used than whilst. You will almost never hear the word whilst spoken in American English, but in British English it is still occasionally used. It is very likely that you would be laughed or stared at for using whilst in America. Whilst is essentially a deprecated version of while (continue reading for more information).

Back in the times of Middle English, the suffix -s was often appended to words in order to indicate the use of an adverb. (Whiles is an even less common example of a different form of while.) However, somewhere along the humongous timeline of the English language, confusion arose. Superlatives were soon mismatched with this -s ending, and it became -st, as is the ending of a superlative. Soon, many modified words arose, such as the following:

  • while/whilst
  • among/amongst
  • again/against (These two words originally meant the same thing, but against has earned an exceedingly different connotation in modern English.)

In conclusion, it truly doesn’t matter if you choose to use whilst instead of while, or vice versa. In many places in England, using whilst has gained a more formal connotation than while. Whilst is also seen much more in writing than in speech, as to Americans and British alike, it just doesn’t sound correct to say whilst. Phonetically, it is harder to speak whilst, which may have been one of the winning factors for while‘s success.

Source: World Wide Words

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62 Responses to “While versus Whilst—Getting Our Facts Straight”

  1. 1 Jason January 11, 2008 at 5:22 pm

    Great article.

    That’s cleared things up for me.


  2. 2 LFD December 19, 2008 at 7:07 pm

    Same as the above post.
    Many thanks.

  3. 3 Turd Ferguson April 3, 2009 at 6:18 am

    Whilst I agree that while is mostly used while writing in the US, and whilst is mostly used whilst in the UK, it should be understood that one may use while or whilst whilst writing in either. While one may be more acceptable whilst in a given country, people will understand using the alternative whilst writing or speaking.

    • 4 steve March 8, 2017 at 11:47 am

      ‘While’ would never be used in the USA unless you want to be pretentious arse whereas the use of whilst is basically an affectation usually used by Brits who want you to know they are Brits.

      The only people I have ever heard use whilst (having lived in both the UK and USA) is the obnoxious pervert, Richard Quest, from CNN International who BTW was busted in NYC in a public toilet for lewdness, and WWII era Brits, who perhaps are a bit anachronistic as is their English usage.

  4. 5 Adib April 30, 2009 at 8:04 am

    Ah, confusion cleared. Thanks for sharing. =)

  5. 6 kim song tan May 11, 2009 at 1:45 pm

    condusion cleared. thanks a lot

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  7. 9 Christopher July 18, 2009 at 5:05 pm

    This article made for some interesting reading – it’s also interesting to note that you regard whilst (and I suppose by extension, ‘amongst’ also) as deprecated.

    I’d argue that it’s quite the contrary – while/among is an Americanism which has crept into the British English vernacular. I use whilst and amongst on a regular basis over among/while – it’s how I was taught and it’s what I deem to be ‘correct’ English.

    Please note that I’m not a stickler for ye olde Britishe Englishe, I just don’t feel that ‘among’ or ‘while’ are always the correct forms of the words to use in context. And context is important – sometimes using the -st variations will help a sentence flow better, particularly when that sentence is being spoken.

    Whilst and amongst are still in daily usage in the UK, particularly amongst (eh? 😉 the demographics who’ve had some kind of formal education in English Language and/or Grammar during Primary or Secondary school. I also think the laziness and Americanism ‘creep’ of American English colloquialisms and ‘revised’ words into British English has had more of an effect on kids from the generation after me, and I have no doubt that the homogenisation of TV and the Internet has aided and abetted this as well.

    Just some of my thoughts…

    (PS – I’m only 23, so you can hardly call me an old crusty, I just have a keen sense of both how I and others use our language on a daily basis 🙂

  8. 10 j. jenkins August 6, 2009 at 2:47 pm

    I was often made to feel quite lacking in education when I used while instead of whilst. At last I understand it’s just not THAT important!!!


  9. 11 sleepyhead August 11, 2009 at 12:03 pm

    I agree with christopher. I’m also 23 and British, and whilst and amongst just feel more right to me when i’m speaking or writing. It was just the way we were taught in school and most people that I know use them more often than “while” and “among”. Also, whilst some people do use “while”, I don’t think many use “among” as this seems a lot more american.
    Also, I think maybe the use of “whilst” and “amongst” is more common in northern england (where I am from), but i’m not certain of this. I’ve noticed some southern friends of mine using while more often. There are other things some (very few, mostly older) people in the north still say like “thee” and “thou”, that no one down south says.

  10. 12 Huckle August 16, 2009 at 1:44 am

    I wish us Brits would stop pretending American English is somehow wrong.

    While and among and all the rest of those words are in use in American English because, when America was colonised, they were what most people used. I’m from Beds/Bucks in England – pretty conservative home counties and I didn’t realise whilst was an archaism until a German asked me what it meant! I use all the “st” endings, not because of my education but because that’s the brand of English we use in these here parts.

    I’m 18, and hate all this British English/American English war of betterness nonsense. The English you grow up with is the English you should use, not the one you think is the correct version. We have no academy to regulate English and for good reason – English is the language of the free and will always be the language of the free.


  11. 13 Christopher August 16, 2009 at 6:45 am

    I don’t think that it’s ‘us Brits’ in general who think British English is superior to American English, I just think that we have a right to proclaim that our variant of English is arguably the best one, given that it’s been around the longest!

    We don’t have an official national body guarding the usage of English, such as the French do, but we do have

    The Plain English Campaign: http://www.plainenglish.co.uk/
    and the web site http://www.englishcouncil.co.uk/ which looks like it was set up by some likeminded individuals 😉

    What riles me the most is the gradual slip into ‘lazy English’ – particularly in spoken English: ‘different to’, interviewees on TV prefixing every response with ‘listen,’ and ‘I mean’ – never mind the abscondment from the correct pronunciation of “an horrendous”! …and that’s just the tip of the iceberg for me.

    If promoting a return to adequate English usage requires that we embrace some of the archaisms, then so be it as far as I’m concerned. And personally, I prefer ‘whilst’ – it rolls off the tongue better and has a lovely epiglottal plosive, which can help when using the word in the middle of a sentence. 🙂

    But maybe I’m just unwilling to let our language slip through our fingers, he said melodramatically!

  12. 14 Charles September 8, 2009 at 12:46 am

    I can’t help responding to this as I research while versus whilst. According to the online Chambers dictionary, while is Anglo-Saxon, which makes it over 1,000 years old. That surly pre-dates the British colonisation of America.

  13. 15 Christopher September 8, 2009 at 3:21 am

    Interesting, I did some further research too (more fool me for not doing it earlier eh!) According to EtymOnline, whilst’s ‘s’ and t’ are adverbial and excresent respectively, and the word ‘whilst’ has a documented first use of c. 1375 (about 200 years before Shakespeare’s birth, to date it).

    It sounds like it’s simply emerged as a preferred variant of the word ‘while’ for British English speakers – only being superceded by the en-US variant ‘while’ as we’ve more recently been sucked in to the country’s popular culture.

    Funny, the cyclical nature of things. They take our olde Englishe variant with them when they emigrate, and then they try and re-impose it upon us when we’ve already made a few revisions and corrections down the line 😉

    Sticking my neck out there, I think whilst sounds less common than while. (Common in a bad way). As such, I’ll continue to use whilst in appropriate situations to make myself look a bit less stupid 😉

  14. 16 Raffy September 11, 2009 at 9:55 am

    Christopher, I use both British and American English.

    In British variants, is it true that all -st (whilst, amongst, amidst) variants always imply opposition and is used with two opposing/conflicting clauses?

    I’m aware that the Brits and Americans have different spelling, vocabulary, pronunciation and even a bit of grammar.

    Is the usage of British variant appropriate only in Europe and the Commonwealth countries (except Canada, where they pronounce like Americans, their grammar is nearly identical to Americans and they spell -ize instead of -ise)?

    • 17 Noel March 1, 2010 at 5:16 am

      Is the usage of British variant appropriate only in Europe and the Commonwealth countries (except Canada, where they pronounce like Americans, their grammar is nearly identical to Americans and they spell -ize instead of -ise)?


      …whilst use of the American variant is appropriate only in North America? I fail to see why one variant is any more appropriate than the other. Having said this, being English myself, if I had to choose one I know which one it’d be 😉

    • 18 David FIsher September 29, 2011 at 6:51 pm

      Major generalisation of Canadian English there my friend. Canadians do not pronounce everything the same as the Americans “Zed” as opposed to “Zee” being the most common example, and no they do not use “ize” instead of “ise” in all cases. They are actually totally confused which is understandable due to US culture creep. Then again the English are also changing their pronounication to American English.. “privacy” now being pronounced “pryvacee” one key example. At the end of the day the country with the more powerful cultural muscle wins every time. This histoically has been a good thing for English. It’s ability to change and adapt whilst still being broadly understandable across boarders probably accounts for it’s widespread use.

  15. 19 Julia March 14, 2010 at 11:34 am

    I’m sorry, but if being true to the “original” usages and spellings of English words is so important, so much more intelligent and educated, then why aren’t Britons still speaking and writing in the same manner used in 1375 (to use one commenter’s example) in ALL of their vocabulary and grammar? In fact, if we are going to stamp out all “bastardiz/sation” of the English language, why not go back to pre-Norman-conquest English, before all of those froggy words crept into the language? Hmmm?

    If you want to look for people today still using a truly old form of English, and be true to the English of the 16th and 17th centuries, you’d do best to take a course from the residents of the southern Appalachian mountains, and start saying “heerd” instead of “heard” and “deef” instead of “deaf”.

    In other words…get over thyself.

    For one source: http://www.bartleby.com/185/12.html

  16. 20 rf May 7, 2010 at 9:10 pm

    For the record, here in Canada – which has a decidedly unique position of borrowing elements of both British and American English – ‘wilst’ is never used. Thanks for the article.

    • 21 David FIsher September 29, 2011 at 6:53 pm

      Not true. Maybe in your circle of friends. However I have seen and heard the word “whilst” use fairly regularly in my part of Ontario. This may of course be due to the large amount of British immigrants.

      • 22 Jack November 1, 2015 at 10:27 pm

        Also not true. Ontarian MA in English here. I’ve been told from as early as my undergrad that the only time “whilst” is acceptable in modern writing is between quotation marks, especially in formal writing. As for speech, it’s so uncommon that it sometimes distracts people from one’s actual content, which decidedly works against the notion of communication.
        I’m not saying that you and your friends don’t still use it, I simply mean to clear up the bit about common Canadian vernacular.

  17. 23 Chris July 23, 2010 at 8:48 am

    A bit of advice . . .

    In the United States, using the word “whilst” instead of the word “while” will only distract from the message you are trying to deliver. Its use in speech distracts more than its use in print. Consider the purpose of communication before using alternative word forms that are unique to the United Kingdom.

  18. 24 DavePage March 23, 2011 at 8:32 am

    “…get over thyself”? Don’t be a smart-ass Julia.

    The language is called ‘English’, derived from England and the people of that name. If You wish to be sloppy with it, that is your affair, but don’t be preaching to the natives. You might well think that Franglais like “le weekend” is an acceptable bastardisation, but the owners of that language will likewise (and less politely) tell you where to stick your misuses…

  19. 25 Patricia August 3, 2011 at 3:26 am

    I am from Singapore, educated in a convent by Irish nuns, now living in Australia, and whilst commenting on an American blog was directed to my use of “whilst”…I was confused as it had come naturally to me.
    Thank you Christopher for clarifying how I got that!

  20. 26 Tim December 7, 2011 at 3:16 pm

    Julia: That was a sterling call. DavePage: If you’re so intent on preserving the sanctified essence of eternal Britishness, why are you using the US spelling of the suffix ‘ass’?

    • 27 Christopher December 7, 2011 at 4:04 pm

      Haha! Unfortunately, whilst (…) I was prepared to defend his usage by interpreting as “ass” as in donkey, when I saw the complete message, I came to realise his usage is inexcusable. (Sorry Dave. ;-))

  21. 28 Wiley Coyote March 28, 2012 at 7:26 am

    All these people whiling away the time between birth and death, while Rome burns….

  22. 29 shahid dossani May 9, 2012 at 1:27 am

    “Whilst” does seem to carry a certain flavor, as opposed to the simpler and plainer “while”. Definitely prefer “towards” versus “toward”, and “in to” over “into”.

  23. 30 tejaswini July 5, 2012 at 12:13 am

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  24. 31 david barnett January 1, 2013 at 2:24 pm

    I use both, using whilst generally when it makes the phrase easier to say. “While John was on holiday,” I might say, or “Whilst working,” to break up those long vowel sounds.

  25. 32 Magesh April 29, 2013 at 7:41 pm

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    Whilst is definitely used frequently in British English.

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  28. 35 Kathy July 28, 2013 at 9:11 pm

    I still don’t understand the difference…

  29. 36 anon September 10, 2013 at 1:57 pm

    As the author of the article explained, the -st stems from this wild tendency some people had to confuse prepositions and adverbs with superlatives, which are entirely different lexical categories. By throwing -st at the end of a preposition or an adverb, you’re *intentionally* corrupting these words and illustrating that you have a very weak grasp of English etymology at the same time.

    The only excuse provided so far is essentially, “The vernacular of where I grew up did it, so it feels natural and correct to me.” So, if you grew up in the Deep South of the U.S., you’d also insist that a knitted hat should be called a “toboggan,” or that the pronunciation of “wash” should for some reason contain an “R” sound? With that attitude firmly in mind, I hope you’re ready for some serious ridicule when you step outside the Twilight Zone that is your birthplace.

    I’ll give you guys the same piece of advice I give everyone else: Forget most everything your parents ever taught you. They were wrong. Most of us probably don’t want to end up as carbon copies of our parents. God knows I don’t.

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