I need to figure out the exact meaning of the phrase 'in a while.'
As I know, that phrase means the same as 'sometimes.'
In the following dialogue, however, it seems that the phrase has different meaning, which looks somewhat strange to me.
Would you take a look and let me know whether it is correct or not?
('For a while' seems to be more proper phrase for that to me...)
Here is the dialgues:
M: I’m so excited to be going to the movies. It’s been a long time since I’ve actually visited the theater and enjoyed a film.
W: It’s the same for me. Well, let’s take a look at what films are playing.
M: I haven’t seen a good action movie in a while. I hope that Spider-Man 3 is playing here.
W: Well, I’ve got good news and bad news. The good news is that the movie’s playing here, but the bad news is that it’s already over. I’m sorry about that.
W: I’m so excited to be going on a trip this weekend. I’m going to love spending time with my friends.
M: You’re driving to the beach this weekend, right?
W: Yeah, I haven’t been there in a while, so I’m going to have fun.
It's correct. In this context, it means a [long] while has passed since the last time a thing happened. "For a while" is okay too, but consider "I'm going to take a nap for a while." You can see that the the two are not always interchangeable. "I'm going to take a nap in a while" has quite a different meaning.
BTW, I'd say that "once in a while" means "sometimes."
"I'll be there in a [little] while," means, "I'll be there in a few minutes."
In / after a while the ice started to melt.
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in a while = something will happen soon in the future.
for a while = a short period of time (I'm just going to sit here for a while). Here it's been made a negative (I haven't been to the cinema for a while = I haven't been to the cinema recently). It's not a precise period, in my first sitting example it might be an hour and in the second cinema example it could be months or even a couple of years.
For example, the amount of time represented by while in I'll be in Europe for a while is greater than the amount of time represented by while in I'll be in the kitchen for a while.
for measures the amount of time that passes while an action is taking place. The action can be continuous, repetitive, or habitual.
The neighbors go jogging for [thirty minutes / an hour / a while] every day.
I walked in the park for [an hour / two hours / a while].
Marcy worked at Amerigenco for [two months / a year / a while].
As part of the research for his new book, Donald had to travel between Asia and Africa for [many years / a while].
in measures the amount of time that will pass between the present time and the time of the action.
I'll be going to the park in [two days / a while].
So these two mean entirely different things:
I'm going to the bank for a while. / I'm going to the bank in a while.
The first says how long I will be at the bank. The second tells when I will start out to go to the bank.
You can even use both in one sentence: In a while I'll be going to the bank for a while. But it sounds awkward, so people don't normally use both like this.
Here's another similar group:
I'm going to Japan for a week. / I'm going to Japan in a week. / I'm going to Japan for a week in a week. / In a week I'm going to Japan for a week.
With negative statements in the perfect tenses, you have a choice.
in can be chosen if you think of measuring the amount of time between the action (when it last took place) and the present moment. for can be chosen if you think of measuring the amount of time during which the 'non-action' took place. In this context, for does not tell how long the action lasted, but how long the absence of the action lasted. I believe that the usual choice is in, but you will hear both.
I have not gone to the bank in/for [two weeks / three days / a while].
I haven't been to Japan in/for [several years / a while].
Gregory hadn't seen that film in/for [many years / months / a while].
The use of these expressions with the affirmative perfect tenses is unidiomatic, although it is somewhat less objectionable with for, where for can revert back to its meaning as a measure of how long the action was in progress.
I've been to Italy *in/?for [a year / a while].
Joe has been playing tennis *in/?for [three hours / a while]. (In the reading of one session of tennis playing)
Joe has been playing tennis *in/for [years / a while]. (In the reading of a lifetime of practicing the sport of tennis)