Should You Use Whilst or While? Differences and Examples

Many writers think that whilst is just a fancy way to say while. They’re not exactly wrong — but they’re not exactly right, either. Sometimes whilst is a nice way to dress up a sentence, but in other situations, you can really only use while. It all depends on where you live and how you are using the word in a sentence.

Clock With Whilst vs While Definitions Clock With Whilst vs While Definitions
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How ‘Whilst’ and ‘While’ Are Similar

If you’re used to speaking or reading in British English (or you’re an American who loves the British dialect), the word whilst, pronounced “WHY-ullst,” is a perfectly natural substitute for while. And that’s true — when you’re using whilst as a conjunction that links two parts of a sentence, or an adverb that modifies a word or phrase. For example:

  • Terry read a book while she waited for Jen. (correct conjunction)
  • Terry read a book whilst she waited for Jen. (correct substitution)
  • While Stephanie was doing the dishes, her brother broke the couch. (correct adverb)
  • Whilst Stephanie was doing the dishes, her brother broke the couch. (correct substitution)

How ‘Whilst’ and ‘While’ Are Different

But the similarity between whilst and while stops there. In addition to a conjunction and adverb, you can use while as a noun to mean “a period of time” and a verb meaning “to spend time,” but not whilst. For example:

  • We have lived in this house for a while. (correct noun)
  • We have lived in this house for a whilst. (incorrect substitution)
     
  • The kids whiled away the hours before their trip watching movies. (correct verb)
  • The kids whilsted away the hours before their trip watching movies. (incorrect substitution)

As you can see, the difference between whilst and while has more to do with grammar than American vs. British English. But as long as you’re using whilst as a conjunction or an adverb, you’re free to replace it with while all you want, no matter what side of the pond you’re on.

Whilst: The British Choice

Whilst is a 14th-century Middle English word that was derived from the earlier while. It follows an obsolete adverb rule, which adds -st to existing words (much like amidst or amongst). While it’s a favored choice for British writers and speakers, it’s not nearly as popular as while among online users.

How To Use ‘Whilst’ in a Sentence

You can choose whilst in sentences like:

  • My mom started vacuuming the floor whilst I was listening to music.
  • Whilst I was doing my homework, my brother destroyed my Lego castle.
  • Melissa was scared whilst she rode the pony.
  • He was hiding in his house whilst the army attacked.
  • Harry talked on the phone whilst pulling money from the ATM.

While: A More Versatile Choice

If the above examples sound too formal, you may prefer the versatile while in all cases, not just when using it as a noun or verb. While comes from the Old English hwīl (pronounced “why-ull”) and has had many meanings over the last several centuries, all of which refer to time. Today, while is most often used as a subordinating conjunction or a sentence adverb, with its noun and verb uses less frequent.

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How To Use ‘While’ in a Sentence

When using while as a conjunction, adverb, noun or verb, it looks like:

  • My mom started vacuuming the floor while I was listening to music.
  • While I was doing my homework, my brother destroyed my Lego castle.
  • Melissa was scared while she rode the pony.
  • He was hiding in his house while the army attacked.
  • Harry talked on the phone while pulling money from the ATM.
  • We sat on the plane for a while before taking off.
  • I’ve been watching this YouTube video for a while.
  • He whiled away his Saturday playing video games.
  • Don’t while away watching videos, read a book.

Quick Chart Comparing While vs. Whilst

Use a simple chart to quickly understand the difference between whilst and while.

Term:

while

whilst

Where It’s Used:

American English

British English

Part of Speech:

conjunction, adverb, noun, verb

conjunction, adverb

Example:

He watched a movie while running on the treadmill.

He watched a movie whilst running on a treadmill.