While-ing away the hours

Hello, and Happy New Year to you.

I rarely make specific New Year’s Resolutions. To be honest, I find the idea a bit silly, and I rarely keep to them anyway.? What I do sometimes, however, is use the New Year to make a concerted effort to change small things.? Perhaps I’ll cook at home a bit more.? Perhaps I’ll drink a bit less.? And, this year, I plan to try and spend a bit of time learning more about my trade.

So, I’m planning to become a better writer by gobbling up the advice of many other talented people and by improving my general standard of English.? I reckon it’s already pretty good, but learning some new words and making better use of the words I do know are two of my aims for 2012.

And, along the way, I hope to share some of what I learn (which may, of course, be second nature to you anyway…!)

While v whilst

It dawned on me over Christmas that I wasn’t sure what the difference is between ‘while’ and ‘whilst’.? I always thought that ‘while’ related

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specifically to two things happening at the same time (‘he watched TV while she knitted a scarf’) whereas ‘whilst’ was a term with a meaning more like ‘whereas’.

Anyway, after a bit of research it turns out that the terms are generally interchangeable – at least when you are using British English.? American English doesn’t tend to include ‘whilst’ and so if you’re writing for a US audience, the advice is to only ever use ‘while’.

If you’re writing for a British audience, using ‘while’ will also generally mean that you won’t be wrong.

With the word gradually dying, though, I am keen to keep it healthy!? There are three pieces of advice I have found which are useful:

i) ‘while’ can be a noun (‘in a while’) whereas ‘whilst’

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ii) ‘while’ can mean either ‘during the time when’ or ‘whereas’ while ‘whilst’ has only the first of these meanings

iii) ‘while is often used for activities happening in parallel (‘While I was preparing lunch, my wife was gardening’) whereas, in contrast, ‘whilst’ is used where there is more of a contradiction (‘Whilst it may be necessary or desirable to protect populations from cruel and corrupt governments, it is not necessarily our business to undertake regime change.’)

So, it seems that there isn’t much of an issue using either word when writing for a British audience.? And, taking point iii) into account, it appears I was pretty much right after all….

Anyone else have experiences or advice on the best way to use ‘while’ and ‘whilst’?

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