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From Late Middle English whilst, whilest, qwhilste (Northern England), quilest (Northwest Midlands) [and other forms], from whiles (during the time that, while; only so long as; provided that; because, since; until)[1] + -t (excrescent suffix, perhaps due to a combination of -(e)s and the following word the, or influenced by the superlative suffix -est).[2] Whiles is derived from whiles (period of time, a while, noun) (probably from the second element of adverbs and conjunctions like otherwhiles and somewhiles), from while (period of time, a while, noun)[3] + -s (suffix forming adverbs of manner, space, and time);[4] and while is from Old English hwīl (period of time, a while), ultimately from Proto-Germanic *hwīlō (period of time, a while; period of rest, break, pause), from Proto-Indo-European *kʷyeh₁- (to rest; peace, rest). The English word can be analysed as whiles +‎ -t (excrescent suffix appended to words suffixed with -s).[5]



whilst (not comparable)

  1. (archaic or obsolete except dialectal) Often preceded by the: During the time; meanwhile.




  1. (British, Australia, literary or rare in North America) Synonym of while
    Synonyms: see Thesaurus:while
    1. During the whole, or until the end, of the time that; as long as, at the same time.
      Synonym: (archaic or dialectal) whiles
      Drivers must switch off engines whilst on stand.instruction on a bus stand sign
      • c. 1596 (date written), William Shakespeare, “The Life and Death of King Iohn”, in Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies [] (First Folio), London: [] Isaac Iaggard, and Ed[ward] Blount, published 1623, →OCLC, [Act IV, scene ii], page 16, column 1:
        I ſaw a Smith ſtand with his hammer (thus) / The whilſt his Iron did on the Anuile coole.
      • c. 1597 (date written), William Shakespeare, “The Merry Wiues of Windsor”, in Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies [] (First Folio), London: [] Isaac Iaggard, and Ed[ward] Blount, published 1623, →OCLC, [Act I, scene i], page 40, column 2:
        [] Ile nere be drunk whilſt I liue againe, but in honeſt, ciuill, godly company for this tricke: if I be drunke, Ile be drunke with thoſe that haue the feare of God, and not with drunken knaues.
      • 1633 May 21 (licensing date; Gregorian calendar), John Fletcher, [James Shirley], The Night-Walker, or The Little Thief. A Comedy, [], London: [] Andrew Crook[e], published 1661, →OCLC, Act I:
        VVell, make your mirth, the whilſt I bear my miſery: / Honeſt minds vvould have better thoughts.
      • 1703, [Daniel Defoe], More Reformation. A Satyr upon Himself. [], [London: s.n.], →OCLC, page 12:
        And thus with lame pretences they revive / Thoſe Lines when Dead, he bluſh'd at whilſt alive: / As if Mankind could not diſcern their Evil, / Without a naked Viſion of the Devil.
      • 1813 January 27, [Jane Austen], chapter V, in Pride and Prejudice: [], volume III, London: [] [George Sidney] for T[homas] Egerton, [], →OCLC, page 92:
        Elizabeth, as she affectionately embraced her, whilst tears filled the eyes of both, lost not a moment in asking whether any thing had been heard of the fugitives.
      • 1942 July-August, Philip Spencer, “On the Footplate in Egypt”, in Railway Magazine, page 208:
        The locomotive [...] was quietly "blowing off" on one Ross "pop" valve, whilst the rhythmic clanging of the fireman's shovel, the black smoke pouring from her chimney, and the harsh sound of the blower told of the proximity of departure time.
    2. Within, or before the end, of the time that.
    3. Although; in contrast; whereas.
    4. Besides; in addition.
      • 1939 September, D. S. Barrie, “The Railways of South Wales”, in The Railway Magazine, London: Tothill Press, →ISSN, →OCLC, page 161:
        Modern engine sheds of advanced design have also been built at Radyr, Abercynon, and elsewhere, whilst other depots have been remodelled and re-equipped.
      • 1963, Margery Allingham, “The Boy in the Corner”, in The China Governess: A Mystery, London: Chatto & Windus, →OCLC, page 214:
        The face which emerged was not reassuring. It was blunt and grey, the nose springing thick and flat from high on the frontal bone of the forehead, whilst his eyes were narrow slits of dark in a tight bandage of tissue.
    5. Only if; provided that; as long as.

Usage notes[edit]

In American English, whilst is considered to be pretentious or archaic. The Penguin Working Words (1993)[6] recommends while only, and notes that whilst is old-fashioned. The Cambridge Guide to English Usage (2004)[7] and Webster’s Guide to English Usage (2004)[8] comment on its regional character, and note that it is rare in American usage. It is thus safer to use only while in international English. On the other hand, The American Heritage Guide to Contemporary Usage and Style (2005),[9] writes that, “while using whilst runs the risk of sounding pretentious, it can sometimes add a literary or ironically formal note to a piece of writing”.

Alternative forms[edit]



  1. ^ whīles, conj.”, in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007.
  2. ^ -t, suf.”, in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007.
  3. ^ whīle, n.”, in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007.
  4. ^ -(e)s, suf.(1)”, in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007.
  5. ^ whilst, adv. and conj. (and prep.)”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, December 2021; “whilst, conj. and relative adv.”, in Lexico, Dictionary.com; Oxford University Press, 2019–2022.
  6. ^ Barrie Hughes (1993) The Penguin Working Words: An Australian Guide to Modern English Usage, Ringwood, Vic.: Penguin, →ISBN.
  7. ^ Pam Peters (2004) The Cambridge Guide to English Usage, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire; New York, N.Y.: Cambridge University Press, →ISBN.
  8. ^ Webster’s Guide to English Usage, New York, N.Y.: Barnes & Noble Books, 2004, →ISBN.
  9. ^ The American Heritage Guide to Contemporary Usage and Style, Boston, Mass.: Houghton Mifflin Co., 2005, →ISBN

Further reading[edit]