Grammar Hammer: Whiling Away the Hours

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I often see “wile away the hours” used interchangeably with “while away the hours,” so which is correct?

Technically, they both are, but there are some subtle differences one should consider.

“To while away the hours” means to “pass time idly” or to “pass time, especially in some leisurely or pleasant manner.” For example, “I spent hours whiling away on the beach last Sunday.”

While means to “pass the time, especially in some leisurely or pleasant manner”

“While away the hours” means to “pass the time, especially in some leisurely or pleasant manner” (Image by araza123/Flickr; used under CC by 2.0)

“Wile” is generally used as a noun, meaning “trickery” or “cunning” (who could forget Wile E. Coyote?); “a disarming or seductive manner”; or “a trick intended to deceive.” It can also be used as a verb to mean “influence by wile.”

In that context, wiling away the hours on a lazy Sunday afternoon could take on an entirely new meaning.

Therefore, “while away the hours” is the preferred expression. “Wile” exists as a means of poetic license to convey a particular mood or theme. For context, “Wile E. Coyote wiles away his time trying to catch that pesky Road Runner.”

Have a grammar rule you’d like me to explore? Drop me a line at catherine.spicer@prnewswire.com.

A version of this post originally appeared on PR Newswire’s Beyond PR blog.  Author Catherine Spicer is a manager of customer content services at PR Newswire.

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  1. September 1, 2020

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