Q. My editorial staff is split over whether “the job will take a while” or “the job will take awhile” is correct. Some of us argue that “awhile” is an adverb modifying the verb “will take.” Others of us maintain that “a while” is a noun and is the direct object of the transitive verb “will take.” We all swear by Chicago here, so if you could clarify the usage of “awhile” and “a while” with regard to transitive verbs, that would be great.
A. Write the job will take a while. It is true that either an adverb or an object can follow a verb. But the adverb awhile means for a while, which clearly should not follow will take (compare stay awhile, which survives expansion to stay for a while). By a related logic, it is important to avoid using the adverb awhile following a preposition (use the two-word form and write, e.g., for a while or in a while).