While, whilst: are they the same?

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Poianone

Senior Member
Italian, Italy
Hi to everyone!
I have a question: what is the difference between the terms "while" and "whilst"? Have they the same meaning or not?
 
  • SofiaB

    Senior Member
    English Asia
    both used in commonwealth English. While used in American English but whilst is understood but considered out of date.
     

    coppergirl

    Senior Member
    USA/English
    Hi/Ciao!

    SofiaB is correct as to the "while" and "whilst" explanation.

    To expand this a bit more, I was originally from the US and was born there. However, when I married (an Englishman) and moved over to England, I found that in academic and professional contexts, "whilst" tends to be used and, in some cases, is preferred to "while". As I have now lived in England for 15 years, I have adopted "whilst", simply because it was what I used professionally when I worked in London. I found it too difficult to keep changing back and forth and so stick with this.

    Having said that, I do not know that all those living in England prefer this to "while". It is only that when I was working professionally, that is what my supervisor preferred and so I adopted it.

    Hope that helps.

    Ciao!
     

    coppergirl

    Senior Member
    USA/English
    Poianone,

    Actually, I should probably add that "whilst" tends to be one of those words which works best in formal, and especially academic, writing. It is slightly arachaic, and it is true that, when speaking to my husband, I would probably not say "Whilst you were out . . . " so much as "While you were out . . . ", although I do hear others in England say "Whilst you were out . . . ", so it does get used in speaking, just not as often as "while".

    However, when writing, it adds a certain something, which is probably why my supervisor preferred it and would change "while" in my professional work to "whilst" whenever she could. "While" is not incorrect, but my supervisor obviously thought "whilst" sounded more polished and educated. Plus, I worked out rather quickly that if she intended to keep changing it, I had better conform sooner rather than later.

    Ciao!
     

    jaqubim

    New Member
    Britain, English
    'Whilst' is an adverbial genitive. This means it is used to describe verbs.
    For an example of where it's used, in English English at least, 'Whilst rising, the sun shone'.

    Not used as 'Whilst the sun was rising, it shone'. 'While' would be used instead here.

    In writing, I always use whilst, but I don't really remember ever saying whilst until 5 mins ago whilst debating it with my girlfriend. I just know I've always used it that way. Maybe it is slightly dated now though. I'm only 23, I don't want to sound like something out of Shakespeare.
    I usually tend to use it when writing formally or writing essays, not when writing my thoughts on a random forum! Sorry to bust in on this, I just want to set the world straight on it now!
     

    dhirallin

    New Member
    English - Australian
    jaqubim's example is insteresting. It implies that having only 'while' might be ambiguous in certain sentences where the word could mean EITHER 'although' or 'during'.

    for example
    'While the sun was rising, it still shone' sounds odd but seems to mean 'During the sun's rising, it still shone'

    Compared with:

    'Whilst the sun was rising, it still shone' seems to means 'although the sun was rising, it still shone'

    I realize these both sound funny, but there might be other examples that sound acceptable.
     

    MilkyBarKid

    Senior Member
    British English
    'while' has one meaning, of 'during the time that..', emphasizing 'time period'.

    For me, 'whilst' survives in its other meaning, and grouping with 'while'/'whereas'/ and even 'although'.

    "Whilst there is some validity to his argument, it must also be said..."
    "Whereas there is some validity to his argument, it must also be said..."
    "While there is some validity to his argument, it must also be said..."
    "Although there is some validity to his argument, it must also be said..."

    'whilst' is far more the mellifluous choice of the words! :)
     

    fkjl2h3t

    New Member
    Antarctican
    'Whilst' is an adverbial genitive. This means it is used to describe verbs.
    For an example of where it's used, in English English at least, 'Whilst rising, the sun shone'.

    Not used as 'Whilst the sun was rising, it shone'. 'While' would be used instead here.

    In writing, I always use whilst, but I don't really remember ever saying whilst until 5 mins ago whilst debating it with my girlfriend. I just know I've always used it that way. Maybe it is slightly dated now though. I'm only 23, I don't want to sound like something out of Shakespeare.
    I usually tend to use it when writing formally or writing essays, not when writing my thoughts on a random forum! Sorry to bust in on this, I just want to set the world straight on it now!
    That's an interesting way to distinguish the words, but that's not an actual rule in the English language. The only usages where "while" and "whilst" are not absolutely interchangeable would be if you're going to go outside for a while to while away the time. You would never go outside for a whilst to whilst away the time. As a conjunction, they mean exactly the same thing, are exactly the same part of speech, and the difference is purely dialectical.

    English doesn't even have a genitive case. Its possessive case is not technically the same as a genitive case, because a genitive case can be other than possessive. English barely has a possessive case, for that matter. Just the good old apostrophe-s. That's it. There's no particular way to express a partitive in English, for example, which would usually be covered by the genitive case in a language which truly had one. Nor the genitives of origin, of value, of material, etc.

    "While" is a genuine Old English word with cognates going back to Proto-Germanic, and did indeed have a now-completely obsolete adverbial form "whiles". This word does not carry into Modern English.

    "Whilst" was invented in the 1300s among the poor classes, and was originally spelled "whilest". This gives a clue as to the linguistic mistake of its formation. The suffix -est on most words is a superlative, except in verbs, where it was tacked onto the end of verbs that modified the subject "thou" (as in "thou givest me fine meats"). At the time when "whiles" was still known, but not very well, some ambitious souls tried to give it more emphasis, and totally messed things up. The same happened with words such as "amongst" and "against" (and then in most dialects "again" was totally redefined so it couldn't be used in the same context).

    Using the word "while" to mean "until" is an even more recent invention. It doesn't predate Columbus, and is simply a fabrication ex nihilio.
     

    VSPrasad

    Member
    India - English
    Although “whilst” is a perfectly good traditional synonym of “while,” in American usage it is considered pretentious and old-fashioned.

    http://www.beedictionary.com/common-errors/whilst_vs_while

    You’re close to the target with your second example. Another pair of a similar kind is among and amongst (a third pair, again and against, has a similar origin but the sense of the words has since diverged).

    In both cases, the form ending in -st actually contains the -s of the genitive ending (which we still have today, though usually written as ’s, of course). In Middle English, this was often added to words used as adverbs (as while became whiles, which often turned up in the compound adverbs somewhiles and otherwhiles). What seems to have happened is that a -t was later added in the south of England through confusion with the superlative ending -st (as in gentlest).

    Both while and whilst are ancient, though while is older. There’s no difference in meaning between them. For reasons that aren’t clear, whilst has survived in British English but has died out in the US. However, in Britain it is considered to be a more formal and literary word than its counterpart.

    http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-whi2.htm
     

    delriego

    New Member
    what about when using it as synonym of "period of time"?

    I think I've never heard "stay here for a little whilst" could that be correct or in that case even in English English would "while"

    stay here for a little while
     

    Cagey

    post mod (English Only / Latin)
    English - US
    Hello deriego. :)

    That's a good point. Both while and whilst can be used as conjunctions or relative adverbs, but only while can be used as a noun, which it is in your example.
     
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