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From Old English hwīl, from Proto-Germanic *hwīlō (compare Dutch wijl, Low German Wiel, German Weile), from Proto-Indo-European *kʷyeh₁- (to rest). Cognate with Albanian sillë (breakfast), Latin tranquillus, Sanskrit चिर (cirá).



while (plural whiles)

  1. An uncertain duration of time, a period of time.
    He lectured for quite a long while.
    • 1857, Charles Kingsley, [Letters and Memories]:
      Do the good that's nearest Though it's dull at whiles.

Related termsEdit




  1. During the same time that.
    He was sleeping while I was singing.
    • 1913, Joseph C. Lincoln, chapter 12, in Mr. Pratt's Patients:
      While the powwow was going on the big woman came back again. She was consider'ble rumpled and scratched up, but there was fire in her eye.
    • 1948, Carey McWilliams, North from Mexico / The Spanish-Speaking People of The United States, J. B. Lippincott Company, page 25,
      While De Anza was exploring the Bay of San Francisco, seeking a site for the presidio, the American colonists on the eastern seaboard, three thousand miles away, were celebrating the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
    • 2013 June 7, David Simpson, “Fantasy of navigation”, in The Guardian Weekly, volume 188, number 26, page 36:
      Like most human activities, ballooning has sponsored heroes and hucksters and a good deal in between. For every dedicated scientist patiently recording atmospheric pressure and wind speed while shivering at high altitudes, there is a carnival barker with a bevy of pretty girls willing to dangle from a basket or parachute down to earth.
  2. Although.
    This case, while interesting, is a bit frustrating.
  3. (Northern England, Scotland) Until.
    I'll wait while you've finished painting.
  4. As long as.
    While you're at school you may live at home.
    • I. Watts
      Use your memory; you will sensibly experience a gradual improvement, while you take care not to overload it.
  5. (media, public policy) Used to denote an individual experiencing racial profiling when performing a seemingly benign activity.
    He was detained for four hours at the store yesterday. His crime? Shopping while black.
    • 2016 November 7, Michael T. Luongo, “Traveling While Muslim Complicates Air Travel”, in The New York Times[1]:
      Ms. Syed, along with many of her American Muslim friends and Islamic-rights advocates, is all too familiar with what many refer to as the stigma of traveling while Muslim.
    • 2019 March 8, Tom Perkins, “'Gardening while black': lawsuit targets white accusers over 'outrageous' claims”, in The Guardian[2]:
      He added that the case took an emotional toll and left him humiliated by the accusations when, in fact, all he had been doing was "gardening while black".





  1. (Northern England, Scotland) Until.
    • Beaumont and Fletcher
      I may be conveyed into your chamber; I'll lie under your bed while midnight.


while (third-person singular simple present whiles, present participle whiling, simple past and past participle whiled)

  1. (transitive) To pass (time) idly.
    • Longfellow
      The lovely lady whiled the hours away.
  2. To loiter.
    (Can we find and add a quotation of Spectator to this entry?)

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