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I know that the phrase "in doing something" has a meaning similar to the conjunction "when", but I don't know their difference. For example, which of the following sounds natural?:

  1. I always wear rubber gloves when washing dishes to protect my hands.
  2. I always wear rubber gloves in washing dishes to protect my hands.
  • Where did you learn such a strange rule? In doing roughly means when doing but not just when and not always the other way around. Methods and skills used in doing something, take turns in doing something, be successful in doing something, be wary in doing something and so on. – Michael Login Jan 20 at 12:56
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Use in when you want to express the idea "by virtue of" or "as a result of":

In submitting your application early you may improve your chances of being accepted into the program if the school has so-called "rolling admissions".

or

In calling him a liar publicly in print you have put your life in danger.

You have put your life in danger in calling him a liar publicly in print.

There is nothing temporal about that meaning; rather instrumentality is the underlying idea. You could change in there to by.

Use when when you want to express the idea of "whenever" or "while".

Wear goggles when working with caustic chemicals.

Wear goggles in working with caustic chemicals. ungrammatical

There are some activities where in with the ing-form of the verb casts the activity as a manner of doing, and in those cases in would be idiomatic:

Take care in how you mix these volatile chemicals.

Take care in mixing these volatile chemicals.

Take care in crossing the busy street.

There the meaning is not "whenever" or "while" but "in your manner of doing the thing" or "in how you do the thing". With in the focus is not on the occasion of the doing but on the doing per se, on the activity itself.

  • A question arises whether in might be dropped altogether with no loss for the meaning: Submitting your application early you may improve...Calling him a liar publicly....Wear goggles working with caustic....Take care mixing these volatile....Take care crossing the busy....? "Take care in mixing" vs "take care mixing" = 97:14300 in Google. – Michael Login Jan 20 at 13:14
  • I don't think there's zero loss of meaning. It might approach zero, but doesn't get there. He put out the fire pissing on it. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jan 20 at 13:28
  • I'd say it's the main verb of a sentence which governs the use of in — e.g. it is indispensable in I don't see anything strange in washing dishes at 4 a.m. – Michael Login Jan 20 at 13:46
  • @Mv Log: It is not indispensable there at all. That pattern is very common in colloquial speech. I don't see anything strange, a guy going to a bar after work to have a beer. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jan 20 at 13:50
  • Not exactly, but the meaning becomes ambiguous: ...strange in washing vs ...strange while washing. I don't see anything strange in going to a bar after work to have a beer. I don't see anything strange around going to a bar after work to have a beer. – Michael Login Jan 20 at 13:54

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