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?"
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.
could be expresses as:
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:
The word while is more likely to be interchangeable with the word as: