Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language Learners Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for speakers of other languages learning English. It's 100% free, no registration required.

They arrived while we were having dinner.

Can I use "during" instead of "while" in that sentence? How about this sentence:

"Would you look after the children while I do the shopping?"

share|improve this question
add comment

1 Answer 1

up vote 5 down vote accepted

The meanings are similar but I'm finding it hard to think of an instance where you could simply exchange the two words without restructuring the sentence.

They arrived while we were having dinner

could be expresses as:

They arrived during our dinner

and:

Would you look after the children while I do the shopping?

would become:

Would you look after the children during my shopping trip?

After analyzing your two examples, it seems like during precedes a noun, but while precedes a verbal phrase. This makes sense, because during is a preposition, but – when used to mean "during the time that"while is a conjunction.

Here are some more examples where I try to exchange the two words:

He sprained his ankle during the game.
He sprained his ankle while playing the game.

I can't concentrate on my homework during the television show.
I can't concentrate on my homework while the TV show is on.

I started to get scared during the thunderstorm.
I started to get scared while the thunderstorm was raging.

The word while is more likely to be interchangeable with the word as:

I started to get scared as the thunderstorm was raging.

share|improve this answer
2  
I see it like this: During always applies to an event that takes a certain amount of time. While applies to a condition that must be met. That condition, in this question, is "that the aforementioned event is in progress". That is why the while version needs a verb to indicate activity (playing, is on, was raging) while during can just mention the event itself (game, show, thunderstorm). –  Tonny May 18 at 22:00
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.