While vs Whilst

Last week, at French lessons, the teacher was writing translations on the board. The two sentences contained the word “while” – we were doing prepositions and conjunctions.

One student in the class called out, “Don’t you mean whilst in the second sentence?”

As these coincidences work, that very week I was working with another colleague, typing up something we were working on. “That while should be whilst. Change it!” directed the colleague.

Mmm. I thought. A food tech teacher correcting me on a point of grammar. But I let it go. It doesn’t matter. Both that she corrected Me and that while and whilst can be used in exactly the same context.

So for the record, they mean the same thing when used as a conjunction in temporal context, when the meaning is “during the time that” or “at the same time”.

Don’t believe me? Well, it is confirmed by the acknowledged authority on English, Burchfield’s The New Fowler’s Modern English Usage. Fowler’s reports that usage has changed to include the meaning of “although”.

Americans have wisely done away with whilst. (Which is why explanation does not appear in Bill Bryson’s Troublesome Words and Bryson’s Dictionary for Writers and Editors. Both of which, I own.)

So, whilst you may wish to appear more correct by using “whilst”, indeed you are not. Further, whilst you may or may not wish to sound pompous when using “whilst”, you probably do wish to sound superior; a position at which you have achieved a modicum of success, in a pompous manner.

PS: I do use whilst sometimes too. My last comment was tongue cheek.

7 thoughts on “While vs Whilst

  1. Isn’t the English language wonderful – and frustrating at the same time! It must be a very difficult language to learn for someone versed in another language. I have always loved words – so much more than numbers. Words can have more than one meaning, be beautiful and evocative in creating a picture in your mind – a number to me is……just a number! I know we need them but how much more interesting are words. I work with numbers but I certainly don’t like them or am as good at them as I think I am with language. I am certainly no expert – I’ve learned something from your post today – but words come to me easier than numbers. Perhaps you are one or the other – a word person or a number person?

    • Love languages! I love how the human mind has created them with all their intricacies and rules and exceptions. (The French are a bugger for exceptions.)

      I am now more a word person. Whilst I always loved reading, I used to be very good at Maths – did Extension at the HSC. But my love of words was stronger and took over.

      I am always learning new things about English – or not remembering things that I know I should – like will and shall; and lie, laid and lain and bare/bear.

  2. I didn’t know the difference between while/whilst. But I have to say I never use ‘whilst’. I thought it was maybe more of an English usage or dated.

    Will/Shall and the others are the sorts of things I want to know but don’t. Had a colleague at old-work who was my ready reference on every point of grammar. but now that I’m not there, I have nobody!

  3. I like the dated English – I am a whilst person but would probably use while on my blog not wanting to sound pompous or old! A lot of the American words are creeping in over here now – I saw a public rubbish bin the other day with the word trash on it and I was reading a story to my granddaughter and the word was spelt the American way missing out two letters we would normally have included – I wonder how she is going to learn to spell correctly.

  4. Word use can have its challenges. Having grown up in the UK, I found many words required translation when I moved back to the US. Rubbish was one. (Car) bonnet and boot –called a hood and a trunk in US. UK windscreen–US windshield. Ask for a nappy here and you might be directed to napkins (serviettes) instead of diapers. Then there is the British use of ‘u’ in words like humour or colour, whereas in the US they would be spelled humor or color. Evidently the latter was brought about by Noah Webster (dictionary) and others, particularly in the 1800s to assert another level of independence from the British Empire.

    • People here rail against American spelling, in particular no u and use of z instead of s. I like the utilitarian, commonsense approach, even if it started as an act of independence.

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