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”) + -t (excrescent suffix, perhaps due to a combination of -(e)s and the following word the, or influenced by the superlative suffix -est). 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) + -s (suffix forming adverbs of manner, space, and time); 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).
- (Received Pronunciation, General American) IPA(key): /waɪlst/
- (without the wine–whine merger) IPA(key): /ʍaɪlst/
Audio (RP) (file)
- Rhymes: -aɪlst
whilst (not comparable)
- (archaic or obsolete except dialectal) Often preceded by the: During the time; meanwhile.
- c. 1601–1602, William Shakespeare, “Twelfe Night, or VVhat You VVill”, in Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies […] (First Folio), London: […] Isaac Iaggard, and Ed[ward] Blount, published 1623, OCLC 606515358, [Act IV, scene ii], page 270, column 2:
- Nay, I prethee put on this gown, & this beard, make him beleeue thou art ſir Topas the Curate, doe it quickly. Ile call ſir Toby the whilſt.
- c. 1607–1611 (first performance), Franc[is] Beaumont; Jo[hn] Fletcher, Cupids Revenge. […], 3rd edition, London: […] A[ugustine] M[atthews], published 1635, OCLC 1179532369, Act II, scene [v]:
- Hero. Leave, leave, tis novv too late. She is dead, her laſt is breathed. / Cleo[phila]. VVhat ſhall vvee doe. / Her[o]. Goe run, / And tell the Duke; and vvhilſt ile cloſe her eyes.
- (Britain, literary or rare in North America) Synonym of
- Synonyms: see Thesaurus:while
- 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, 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 606515358, [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, William Shakespeare, “The Merry VViues of VVindsor”, in Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies […] (First Folio), London: […] Isaac Iaggard, and Ed[ward] Blount, published 1623, OCLC 606515358, [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-VValker, or The Little Thief. A Comedy, […], London: […] Andrew Crook[e], published 1661, OCLC 921239115, Act I:
- VVell, make your mirth, the whilſt I bear my miſery: / Honeſt minds vvould have better thoughts.
- 1813 January 27, [Jane Austen], chapter V, in Pride and Prejudice, volume III, London: […] [George Sidney] for T[homas] Egerton […], OCLC 38659585, 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.
- Within, or before the end, of the time that.
- 1819, Jedadiah Cleishbotham [pseudonym; Walter Scott], chapter VII, in Tales of My Landlord, Third Series. […], volume II (The Bride of Lammermoor), Edinburgh: […] [James Ballantyne and Co.] for Archibald Constable and Co.; London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown, […]; Hurst, Robinson, and Co. […], OCLC 277985465, page 172:
- [P]ray, step down to the cellar and fetch us a bottle of the Burgundy, 1678—it is the fourth bin from the right-hand turn—And I say, Craigie—you may fetch up half-a-dozen whilst you are about it—Egad, we'll make a night on't.
- Although; in contrast; whereas.
- c. 1594, William Shakespeare, “The Comedie of Errors”, in Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies […] (First Folio), London: […] Isaac Iaggard, and Ed[ward] Blount, published 1623, OCLC 606515358, [Act II, scene i], page 88, column 1:
- His company must do his minions grace, / Whil'ſt I at home ſtarue for a merrie looke: / Hath homelie age th'alluring beauty tooke / From my poore cheeke?
- 1609, William Shakespeare, “Sonnet 37”, in Shake-speares Sonnets. […], London: By G[eorge] Eld for T[homas] T[horpe] and are to be sold by William Aspley, OCLC 216596634:
- So then I am not lame, poore, nor diſpiſ'd, / VVhilſt that this ſhadow doth ſuch ſubſtance giue, / That I in thy abundance am ſuffic'd, / And by a part of all thy glory liue: […]
- 1655, Thomas Fuller, “Section I. The First Century.”, in James Nichols, editor, The Church History of Britain, […], volume I, new edition, London: […] [James Nichols] for Thomas Tegg and Son, […], published 1837, OCLC 913056315, book I, subsection 2 (Their Principal Idols), page 6:
- There is a place near St. Paul's in London, called in the old records "Diana's chamber," where, in the days of king Edward I. thousands of the heads of oxen were digged up; whereat the ignorant wondered, whilst the learned well understood them to be the proper sacrifices to Diana, whose great temple was built thereabout.
- 1847 January – 1848 July, William Makepeace Thackeray, “Brussels”, in Vanity Fair, London: Bradbury and Evans […], published 1848, OCLC 3174108, page 253:
- Whilst her appearance was an utter failure (as her husband felt with a sort of rage), Mrs. Rawdon Crawley's début was, on the contrary, very brilliant.
- Besides; in addition.
- 1939 September, D. S. Barrie, “The Railways of South Wales”, in The Railway Magazine, London: Tothill Press, ISSN 0033-8923, OCLC 1256058197, 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 483591931, 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.
- Only if; provided that; as long as.
In American English, whilst is considered to be pretentious or archaic. The Penguin Working Words (1993) recommends while only, and notes that whilst is old-fashioned. The Cambridge Guide to English Usage (2004) and Webster’s Guide to English Usage (2004) 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), 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”.
- ^ “whīles, conj.”, in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007.
- ^ “-t, suf.”, in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007.
- ^ “whīle, n.”, in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007.
- ^ “-(e)s, suf.(1)”, in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007.
- ^ “whilst, adv. and conj. (and prep.)”, in OED Online , Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, December 2021; “whilst, conj. and relative adv.”, in Lexico, Dictionary.com; Oxford University Press, 2019–2022.
- ^ Barrie Hughes (1993) The Penguin Working Words: An Australian Guide to Modern English Usage, Ringwood, Vic.: Penguin, →ISBN.
- ^ Pam Peters (2004) The Cambridge Guide to English Usage, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire; New York, N.Y.: Cambridge University Press, →ISBN.
- ^ Webster’s Guide to English Usage, New York, N.Y.: Barnes & Noble Books, 2004, →ISBN.
- ^ The American Heritage Guide to Contemporary Usage and Style, Boston, Mass.: Houghton Mifflin Co., 2005, →ISBN