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I've never understood this, and even the head of the English department at my grammar (as in selective secondary, not as in sentence structure Emotion: stick out tongue) school didn't know how to differentiate between them. Are there any points in which one cannot use one or the other of these? I have always used either, though I tend to use the "st" versions, purely because I prefer the sound.

Thanks for your help.
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I'm English and I'd have it the other way round - 'while' implying something temporal and 'whilst' substituting for 'whereas'. Now that would be confusing.
Whilst is used before a verb: Whilst watching television - - - - - Whilst watching their flocks by night

But: I read a book while I was travelling on the train. I read a book whilst travelling on the train.
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I came across your string of messages just after writing to my former Turkish teacher on this subject. May I cut and paste?

While editing a legal handbook, I was confronted a few times with a "whilst" that didn't sound right to my ear. After a little reseach, I learned that the "-st" suffix in whilst, aidst and amongst is an "excrescent suffix"; according to my dictionary, excrescent means "of a sound in a word growing out of ['crescent' from the French 'croissant', growing (not to be confused with the breakfast roll, except indirectly though Marie Antoinette, the defeat of the Turkish army, the moon as a symbol of Islam and the moon in its "rising" (cresent) phase, but that's another story)] the action of the speech organs in forming neighboring sounds".

Now I had always thought that sound changes in suffixes were limited to Turkish, but here it is in English. The -st is added when the next word begins with a vowel, similar to "an orange" as opposed to "a pear" and the French liaison, where you pronounce the last letter of a word if the next word begins with a vowel, as in "pas encore", where there is a "z" sound between the two words, at least in my neighborhood.

So proper English usage calls for (or called for, perhaps some long time ago) whilst, aidst and amongst when the next work begins with a vowel. "Amongst us" but "among those present" ... it's just easier to pronounce.

As an American, I won't be using whilst any time soon, but I'll stop correcting my English colleagues who do, depending on the first letter of the next word, just to be pedantic.
This is an interesting insight. But even with a following consonant, I like the clear word terminations of st in amongst, amidst, and whilst.
'Whilst' is an adverbial genitive. This means it is used to describe verbs.

For an example of where it's used, in English English at least, 'Whilst rising, the sun shone'.

Not used as 'Whilst the sun was rising, it shone'. 'While' would be used instead here.

In writing, I always use whilst, but I don't really remember ever saying whilst until 5 mins ago whilst debating it with my girlfriend.I just know I've always used it that way. Maybe it is slightly dated now though. I'm only 23, I don't want to sound like something out of Shakespeare.

Usually tend to use it when writing formally, like writing essays, not when writing my thoughts on a random forum! Sorry to bust in on this, I just want to set the world straight on it now!

Jack
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Perhaps I am poetic, but I frequently use 'whilst' in formal reports, and I have noticed the same of my colleagues in the NHS (English National Health Service). An example from a letter I wote today:

"However, we believe that the College has successfully engaged this group, and wish to make full use of their recent understanding and enthusiasm whilst it is still available."

Christian Martin
I often use 'whilst' and was taught to do so at my Grammar school. However, that could be because I am archaic.
I tend to use the -st form when there's a vowelish sound following: Amidst your eggs; Amid five fish; While silly Susan; Whilst overbearing, etc.
- Warwick.
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Practical English Usage, Michael Swan, OUP, pp. 73-74

While vs whilst

There is no difference in meaning between these two words. In British English whilst is considered to be a more formal and literary word than while. The different spellings that exist today have their origins in changes to the words in Middle English and later. See http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-whi2.htm for an explanation.
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