While vs. Whilst – What’s the Difference?

While and whilst are simple words that many writers nonetheless don’t understand. Whilst is common in older English, though it seems to have disappeared in modern times.

Since these words are so similar, is there any difference between them? While is a versatile word that can become many parts of speech, depending on context. Is whilst just as acceptable? Continue reading to learn more about these confusing words.

What is the Difference Between While an Whilst?

In this post, I will compare while vs. whilst. I will use each in several example sentences, so you can see them each in context.

Plus, I will show you a memory tool that you can use to help you remember the difference between while or whilst.

When to Use Whilst

Define whilst and define whileWhat does whilst mean? Whilst can either be used to mean at the same time, or to indicate contrast, like the word whereas.

Here are some examples,

  • I shall walk to the parts store whilst you fiddle about with your tools.
  • Samson is a productive member of society, whilst Lady Higginbotham is a vapid socialite, obsessed with the trivialities of courtly life.
  • “We found that whilst the trust had investigated and trialled options, a final decision had not been taken.” –The Guardian

Whilst is an old word. It originates from Middle English, and like many words from this era, was first used in the 14th century.

Whilst is common in formal British English, but in American English, you rarely see this word, even in the most formal occasion.

When to Use While

whilst versus whileWhat does while mean? While can be used as many parts of speech, including a noun, an adverb, and a verb.

In this article, though, I will focus on its use as an adverb and conjunction. In these contexts, while is a synonym of whilst.

For example,

  • While Iliza was in the shower, Louis fried some eggs.
  • Nihilists believe in the inherent meaninglessness of everything, while most theists believe that meaning comes from God.
  • In 10 or 15 years’ time, customers could even decide while they’re at work what they want for dinner and have an MOL car pick them up with the groceries already loaded in the back, he says. –The Wall Street Journal

While is a common word in both American and British English. In American English, it gradually replaced the word whilst long before the 18th century, as the graph below shows.

while versus whilst

This graph charts whilst vs. while across American English books since 1800.

Even in British English, while has replaced whilst in most contexts, although whilst is used more frequently than in American English.

Definition of whilst definition and definition of while definition

Today, whilst seems affected and pretentious, like the speaker should be wearing a monocle while smoking a pipe and wearing a top hat. In most situations, speakers and writers will use while instead.

In some circumstances when formality is desired, one may choose to use whilst. Perhaps a wedding invitation, a graduation ceremony, or a fundraising event.

Trick to Remember the Difference

How should you remember the difference between these words? Let’s look at a memory trick.

These words are synonyms when used as a conjunction or an adverb. Since whilst is chiefly British and largely outdated, you can use the shared S between British and whilst as a clue to remember that while is more common today.

Summary

Is it whilst or while? Whilst and while are two spellings of the same word, which can be used as a conjunction or an adverb. It means at the same time or whereas.

Today, whilst is no longer common. Most writers and speakers simply use while instead.

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