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I was recently watching this Apple series called For All Mankind and came across the following sentence there:

While we sit here, the Soviets are pushing ahead with their plans for a lunar military foothold.

To put it into a bit more context, these words are coming from a senator addressing the public on sort of a conference/trial/hearing.

So the question is, what's the difference between this sentence and

While we are sitting here, the Soviets are pushing ahead with their plans for a lunar military foothold.

Stylistically and in terms of the meaning.

Could it be that maybe what is being implied here is "while these meetings keep taking place" on a regular basis rather than "while they are sitting there in this particular moment"? (although this is not clear from the episode). But then again the second part is present continuous, so probably this is not the case?

When I asked my native British friend about it, he said that this is because it's shorter and punchier. Is that really all there is to it?

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The simple present is usually used for habitual actions, or in the narrative.

I answer questions on Stack Exchange. (Habitual)

I press keys one at a time on my keyboard and words appear on my screen. (narrative)

Adding "while" implies a continuous sense. It means roughly "at the same time as".

While I type this answer, I am listening to music.

There's nothing wrong with using the present continuous in conjunction with "while":

While I am typing this answer, I am listening to music.

It's not strictly speaking necessary but ultimately it's a matter of style which one you use.

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  • Thanks @CJ Dennis! And what's the difference in terms of the style between "While I type this answer, I am listening to music." and "While I am typing this answer, I am listening to music."? Apr 4, 2020 at 6:57
  • It just slightly emphasises the continuous more. There's really not much between them.
    – CJ Dennis
    Apr 4, 2020 at 7:37
  • according to the Cambridge Key English Test ising the present continuous is wrong, see this question: ell.stackexchange.com/questions/42734/… Aug 30, 2021 at 8:54
  • Though, everything written has not explained the stylistical and notional difference between two versions of the tense in the subordinate clause. It is simple to clarify practically: they differ in the extent of response; to do nothing but talking idly; or to take some countermeasure though insufficient. Even though such difference is hard to make clear by the words of grammar because the terms of it are beyond a secondary education language theory.
    – kngram
    Jan 15 at 2:02
  • also in the style section, short words are more punchy "while we sit" feels more urgent than "while we are sitting" and politicians like this style
    – WendyG
    May 23 at 14:16

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