A lot, Apart, Awhile: Common Mistakes in ‘A’ Words

Wednesday, January 52 min read

Some words are so frequently misused they even trip up native English writers. Phrases that include the article “a” are especially tricky since they can often be written as one word or two. Sometimes, the incorrect word doesn’t exist, but other times a misplaced space can change a word’s meaning. We’ll go over three commonly misspelled terms and help you select the correct version when you’re writing.

A Lot vs. Alot

We’ll start with an easy one. The phrase “a lot” means “a large amount.” (“There are a lot of children in the family.”) “Alot” is not a word, but it’s a common misspelling of “a lot,” which should always be written as two words. The words “lots” or “many” can also be used in its place.  

The word “allot,” however, has an entirely different meaning. It’s a verb that means to apportion a share or task. (“Each child will be allotted one cookie before bedtime.”) It’s related to the noun “allotment,” which means “the amount of something allocated to a particular person.”

A Part vs. Apart

These two terms are both correct but have slightly different meanings. “A part” means an individual piece of something. However, “apart” is an adverb to describe things that have been separated.

If you could replace the term with “one part,” then “a part” is the one you want.

The actor was given a part in the play.

Maria ordered a part for her car.

Talking to customers is a part of my job.

In more casual communication, the article “a” can be dropped. For example: “Talking to customers is part of my job.”

Use “apart” when talking about two things separated by time, distance, or space, either literally or figuratively.

America and Australia are very far apart.

The books were published several years apart.

His wife didn’t like being apart.

“Apart” can also be used in the phrase “apart from.” In this case, it’s a synonym for “besides” or “except for.” (“I love all fruit apart from bananas.”)

A While vs. Awhile

“A while” is a noun phrase that means “a period of time.” “Awhile” is an adverb that means “for a short time.” The differences are subtle, but these words aren’t interchangeable, and should be used in unique circumstances.

Since “while” is a noun with the article “a” attached, we’re dealing with a noun phrase in which the word “while” implies an unspecified amount of time.

It’s been a while since we visited the park.

I studied geography for a while.

Minnie sat with her grandmother for a while.

So, how do you know if “a while” belongs in a sentence? Replace the noun phrase with a specific period of time — such as “a week” — and see if the sentence still makes sense. For example, “It’s been a week since we visited the park.”

Remove the space and use “awhile” as an adverb to modify a verb.

I read awhile after dinner.

Bill said he would visit awhile.

The children played awhile.

Check your word choices by replacing the word “awhile” with another adverb such as “softly,” “briefly,” or “patiently.” If the meaning is clear, your adverbial usage is correct. For example: “I read briefly after dinner.” We’re talking about the type of reading, not the length of time.

Featured image credit: Katie Carlyle/ iStock

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