The Grammarphobia Blog

Lost in the whilst

Q: I hear often from Brits the word “whilst,” which is not used in the US. A penny for your thoughts on its usage.

A: “Whilst,” though common in British English, is rarely heard in the United States. And when it is used here, it sounds pretentious and archaic.

“While” is the common usage here, and as matter of fact it’s the older word. The word “while” goes back to about the year 1000 (spelled “hwile”), according to the Oxford English Dictionary, and “whilst” dates from the late 1300s.

The same is true for “amongst” and “amidst.” They’re commonly used in Britain, while Americans use “among” and “amid.”

Again, the American preference happens to be for the older word. “Among” dates to about 1000, and “amongst” to 1250; “amid” is from circa 975, and “amidst” from about 1300.

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