What should I pay additional attention to (while/when) working on the project?

Please, explain what is most suitable word in the situation and why.

  • I see nothing to chose between the two: they're equally good, and I can't find any difference in meaning.
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Mar 8, 2018 at 10:49

1 Answer 1


While I wouldn't argue with Colin Fine, I would say that when might be preferred for a point or period in time and while for a continuum, especially when using present perfect or past perfect constructions.

For instance, one can make a distinction between assisting someone:

one day when I am not busy

meaning a whole day that is not occupied by something, and

one day while I am not busy

meaning a day when the speaker can find time to render assistance.

Similarly, to say:

I shall go swimming when I am there

might refer to a single swim or many swims, while

I shall go swimming while I am there

suggests that the person will spend much of the time swimming.

There is a similar difference in nuance between such constructions as:

when I speak to you


while I speak to you.

In your example, I would prefer while as the more suitable (not most suitable) word on the basis that it fits more comfortably with the uncertain time that you will be working on the project.

  • 1
    I get what you’re trying to say, but two things: (1) most native speakers would have to think mighty hard before they sensed any difference between the two, and (2) I’m not sure that “I’ll show you that nifty trick in Outlook one day when I am not busy” would imply an entire day, as opposed to a free half hour or so.
    – J.R.
    Commented Mar 8, 2018 at 11:27
  • @J.R. No argument. "Day when I am not busy* is ambiguous. Nuance rules the day! Commented Mar 8, 2018 at 15:31

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