I´m studying the use of while and when with simple past/past continuous.

I´ve watched some videos about it, but I cannot fully understand when I should use "while" or "when" and if it would be okay to use when followed by past continuous as well as while followed by past simple.

Some examples I doubt they sound natural:

1 - Something hit my head WHEN my cousin was talking to me. (instead of WHILE)

2 - While the children were running on the escalator, I swam in the sea.

3 - The visitors were watching the robots, while the robots attacked a person. (instead of were attacking).

4 - When I watched TV, he was learning English.

I´ve read that there might be some exceptions so it´s not that clear for me. Would they be grammatically correct? Beyond the listener understanding the meaning.

Thank you!

  • Isn't while and when different in your language too?? They would be exactly the same situationally. There might be some exceptions to what exactly??
    – Lambie
    Commented Dec 12, 2022 at 17:02

1 Answer 1


(1) You could use either (a single incident happened during the time that he/she was talking).

(2) is correct (two continuing actions were taking place at the same time - though it doesn't sound a good idea to leave children to play on an escalator!)

There seems to be a mistake in (3) as killing isn't mentioned in the sentence. If the attack was a single incident that happened while the people were watching, it should be when the robots attacked.

(4) While I watched/was watching TV. Using when would imply that you watched TV in the past and don't do it any more.

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