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I saw the following sentences and am wondering whether as, when and while are interchangeable.

As / While / When I was walking down the street I saw Joe driving a Porsche.

The telephone always rings as / while / when you are having a bath.

As / While /When they were playing cards, somebody broke into the house.

I'd appreciate your help.

2 Answers 2

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as and while don't partner with things that take place in a split second:

She was singing as|while he shattered the glass window with a small brass hammer in a single stroke.

(example of what not to say)

But when does. when is the most versatile of the three.

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  • Your generalization and example don't seem to match; shouldn't "as" or "while" be replaced by "when" in the example?
    – Apollyon
    May 22, 2018 at 22:28
  • Can "as" be used in "People should use some sunscreen while / when they are outdoors for a long time"?
    – Apollyon
    May 22, 2018 at 22:32
  • It was meant to be an example of misuse.
    – TimR
    May 22, 2018 at 22:48
  • are outdoors is not a duration but a state. as partners with ongoing events, actions-in-progress.
    – TimR
    May 22, 2018 at 22:49
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When X, Y - X is a single point in time. It's possible and likely that Y interrupted X.

As X, Y - X is a single point in time. It's not likely that Y interrupted X - Y and X happened concurrently.

While X, Y - X is a duration of time, not a single point in time. Y may or may not have interrupted X.

If X requires a lot of time or is a long, continuous activity, while should be used over when.

If Y is not something that requires physical/mental interruption of X, the difference between these doesn't matter very much, but can imply the degree of importance or attention Y has.

When I was walking down the street I saw Joe driving a Porsche (Maybe I stopped walking when I saw him.)

While I was walking down the street I saw Joe driving a Porsche (The walk was a long walk, and maybe it was significant that I saw him driving a Porsche but I might not have stopped in my tracks at that moment.)

As I was walking down the street I saw Joe driving a Porsche (Joe might have been far away and I didn't bother to stop walking.)

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