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Why should I replace Despite in this sentence with While?

Wrong:

Despite this book is useful, many students have not started reading it.

Correct:

While this book is useful, many students have not started reading it.

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  • 4
    Well, if you want to keep despite, you need to change is to being.
    – Davo
    Commented Jun 27, 2017 at 13:05
  • 2
    Alternatively, "Despite the fact that this book is useful..." Commented Jun 27, 2017 at 15:00
  • You can use "although" or "even though" instead of "while". Commented Jun 28, 2017 at 15:12

2 Answers 2

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Despite and in spite of are prepositional expressions having the same meaning and are interchangeable. They are used in sentences to express a contrast between two things. They are used only with nouns or ing forms and never in spite of / despite + clause. While can be used in clauses to balance a contrast.

The sentence should be rewritten using despite as:

Despite the book's being useful, many students have not started reading it.

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  • In spite of and despite are not always interchangeable; when the object is a participial clause with no explicit subject, for example, only despite works: “Despite being drunk, he still managed to walk straight” is fine, whereas “In spite of being drunk, he still managed to walk straight” is dubious at best (completely ungrammatical to me). Commented Jun 27, 2017 at 16:09
  • @Janus I'd drop the 'still' but find both equally acceptable. Commented Jun 27, 2017 at 16:51
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You could write, "Despite the usefulness of the book, many student have not started reading it."

As Davo points out, using "is" with "despite" in the original text is awkward. Changing "despite" to "while" resolves this. Changing "is useful" to "the usefulness" also resolves this.I believe the issue is that "despite" is a preposition, and "while" is a conjunction.

Noted by Janus Bahs Jacquet:

A preposition... cannot be followed by a finite verb clause—prepositions generally cannot. It can be followed by a noun phrase (“despite the high prices”) or by a present participle phrase (“despite the prices being high”), but not a finite verb.

Conjunctions like while, on the other hand, must be followed by a finite verb clause.

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  • The question is why a native speaker replaced "despite" with "while" when he reviewed my writing? What is wrong with "Despite"?
    – Stephen
    Commented Jun 27, 2017 at 13:14
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    @Stephen: "Despite this book is useful, ..." is wrong and something needs to be changed. Your editor chose to change Despite though other possibilities also work
    – Henry
    Commented Jun 27, 2017 at 13:25
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    @Stephen As PV22 says, despite is a preposition and as such cannot be followed by a finite verb clause—prepositions generally cannot. It can be followed by a noun phrase (“despite the high prices”) or by a present participle phrase (“despite the prices being high”), but not a finite verb. Conjunctions like while, on the other hand, must be followed by a finite verb clause. Commented Jun 27, 2017 at 13:26
  • Actually, let me qualify that: there are a fair few prepositions that can be followed by finite verb clauses, at least in some people’s view; despite just isn’t one of them. People like Geoff Pullum consider both despite and while to be prepositions; conjunctions to them are only and, but, and that. Others would disagree. Commented Jun 27, 2017 at 13:47
  • Also, I do believe you’ve confused me with a small, West Indian nation. ;-) Commented Jun 27, 2017 at 16:10

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