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In the fragment, "While the novel captures the daily life of the city in the 1940s, it is also a wonderful guide to the cuisine of Salvador", the word while can be replaced, without altering the meaning, by
a) Until
b) During the time
c) As long as
d) Also
e) Whereas

The answer is "e", according to a recent admission test. I do not agree. As far as I know, "while" and "whereas" are interchangeable if they are expressing the idea of opposition. In the fragment, I see clearly an idea of simultaneity. In this case, "while" could be replaced by "during the time". Am I right? If so, where can I find a source that explains this difference unequivocally?

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    I think sentence #1 He talked while I listened is both syntactically and semantically ambiguous. #2 He talked whereas I listened can only carry the "contrast" sense, but #1 can (and normally would) carry the "concurrent" sense. Oct 27, 2023 at 10:36
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    I'd also just say that in some constructions similar to OP's, it's effectively almost arbitrary which sense we assign to while. Take for example While the story entertains the audience, it also teaches them something about history. I'm quite happy to interpret that either way - it's not a matter of mutually exclusive binary choice. Consequently, although I agree (e) is the "correct" answer here, I think it's a potentially misleading / confusing way to approach this particular usage. Oct 27, 2023 at 10:50
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    Perhaps this is a dialectal or idiolectal thing, but I find (e) to be completely impossible here. Whereas introduces an opposition (generally a binary one), and there is no opposition here, only an addition. None of the options given is a valid answer to me. Oct 27, 2023 at 11:32
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    @JanusBahsJacquet: I wrote "correct" in scare quotes in my previous comment precisely because OP's example isn't really "contrastive". Note that both OP's and my own example apply the word also to the second clause - which imho significantly steers things towards the at the same time interpretation (that's why I don't think it's a good multi-choice question for learners, even though all the other options are clearly non-starters, so there's no doubt which you should pick). Oct 27, 2023 at 12:04
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    There must be a grammar textbook somewhere that has this wrong or doesn't explain it clearly enough. I remember a question from some years ago that had a sentence like "Wear your raincoat whereas it's raining." Oct 27, 2023 at 13:38

5 Answers 5

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My native intuition agrees with your own: it's a pretty poor use of "whereas".

Whereas "while" can have a broad catch-all conjunctive meaning like that of "and", "whereas" strongly suggests either contrast or the furnishing of a reason (consider legalese for proposing a motion). While "whereas" and "while" overlap, the overlap is not this complete.

To be less coy, (e) as the answer puzzles the reader because the two clauses are obviously not in contrast and less obviously not in a "because/therefore" relationship.

Whereas at least one commenter agrees with the intended answer, I would go so far as to say that while it's the least wrong of the options provided, it's still wrong and suggests a writer who (like so many) hasn't really grokked the uses of "whereas". I would certainly not let it go by as an editor.


The second question is whether "while" could be replaced with "during the time" here. There are two answers to give:

It can't be replaced syntactically. The syntax would only work if you said "During the time that".

Even then, it can't be replaced semantically. For this sense to work, "during" has to be durative. There has to be an identifiable timespan during which two things can happen simultaneously. But neither "the novel captures the daily life" nor "the novel is a wonderful guide" have this aspect.

The phone always rings while I'm in the shower.

Note that you should not confuse this sense with the one in a sentence like this:

The novel captures the daily life of the city in the 1940s while also serving as a wonderful guide to the cuisine of Salvador.

This is not really "during the time", but the broadly conjunctive "and" I referred to earlier.

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    Absolutely agreed! No idea why this answer was downvoted within about 30 seconds of being posted, but I’ve given it a +1 to counter the downvote. Oct 27, 2023 at 11:33
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    My non-native understanding of the English language concurs with this assessment (take that with whatever amount of salt you feel is adequate).
    – Joachim
    Oct 27, 2023 at 11:51
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    Describing answer (e) as "least wrong" is much better than saying it's "correct"! :) Oct 27, 2023 at 13:01
  • During the time of typing out your comment, you did not respond to the sub-question in the OP about whether (b), "during the time" might be appropriate, could you add that to your answer? Oct 27, 2023 at 18:21
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    You should generally avoid discussing "tabling" motions, because it has near-opposite meanings in different parliamentary traditions. Good answer otherwise.
    – fectin
    Oct 30, 2023 at 2:50
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I think the answer should be e, because none of the other answers fits at all.
This fragment of text may not contain the opposition that is required to justify "whereas", but that might be supplied by a preceding sentence. For example,

"This novel isn't just a historical scenario. Whereas the novel captures the daily life of the city in the 1940s, it is also a wonderful guide to the cuisine of Salvador"

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    Something like although. Oct 27, 2023 at 13:43
  • This follows the standard practice for a multiple-choice test, where you're supposed to pick the "best" answer, not the uniquely correct answer. In this case, the "best" answer is the one that is "least wrong" (as a commenter has already so aptly stated under another answer).
    – David K
    Oct 29, 2023 at 1:19
  • I somewhat agree with you, but when the justification is "none of the other answers fit at all", it can be more of an indication of a bad question than that it is really correct in the real world... Oct 30, 2023 at 17:45
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Specific to the legal field, the legal, i.e., use in the context of law, definition of whereas, paraphrased, is exposition of fact. In that sense, while would essentially glue together the two clauses, similar to an appositive.

Legal English comes from English. Whether or not it's good contemporary vernacular is debatable. That is, I'd say that in most contexts, this is poor usage for normal American English speakers.

However, as a native American English speaker, I would also argue that the entire sentence provided is awkward and somewhat archaic. Unless you're trying to mess someone up (or coerce them into wrong answers on an exam), you can eliminate this entire problem like this:

The novel captures the daily life of the city in the 1940s. It is also a wonderful guide to the cuisine of Salvador.

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    Doesn't this lose a bit of the meaning though? "While" suggests, the book is primarily appearing to be about the daily life of the city but, perhaps unexpectedly, it's actually also a wonderful guide. e.g. "Have you got a book about Salvadorian cuisine?" "Have you tried 'The City'?" "No, I didn't look in the fiction section, only the travel section." "Well, while it captures the daily life of the city in the 1940s, it is also a wonderful guide to the cuisine of Salvador" Oct 27, 2023 at 20:20
  • @lessthanideal yes, absolutely, it would lose some meaning. This should be balanced vs. the cost of clarity. A starting English learner may be best sticking to the simpler construction while a more advanced learner may do better weighing the options. Either way though, whereas is an inferior choice by modern usage. Unless you're a lawyer. Oct 27, 2023 at 20:37
  • The legal field is the least relevant point about whereas.
    – Lambie
    Oct 31, 2023 at 14:30
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"While the novel captures the daily life of the city in the 1940s, it is also a wonderful guide to the cuisine of Salvador"

I'm not a native English speaker but here's how it looks to me.

The use of "while" in that sentence explicitly draws contrast between the two attributes ascribed to the novel. Implicitly the novel is considered to be about daily life in that city in the 1940s and the sentence above highlights that the book also seres as a cuisine guide similarly. While I find that use of "while" a bit unusual it does drive a point of contrast and so whereas can be similarly used.

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    It's hard to articulate why, but this is just not the sort of contrast that "whereas" can set up. I guess I would say that the sentence's contrast is only differentiation, whereas "whereas" expresses contradiction. To use "whereas", it shouldn't be possible for both options to be true simultaneously. Oct 28, 2023 at 14:04
  • I agree with you in part @LukeSawczak but consider... 1) it seems there is an issue is in the construction of the original sentence where "while / is also" - it would have worked better starting with "while the novel does capture..." which is a more natural form for the message and sharpens the contrast. 2) one can interpret the original sentence as "While the novel is considered to be exclusively about the daily life ..., it is also a wonderfull." and in this way the contrast is more oppositional - the contrast being the single vs dual topics richly covered by the work.
    – Ram
    Oct 30, 2023 at 22:58
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Cambridge Dictionary (a very reliable source)

Warning: Whereas means the same as while in sentences expressing contrasts. It does not mean the same as while when while refers to time:

The south has a hot, dry climate, whereas/while the north has a milder, wetter climate.

The secretary took care of my appointments while I was away from the office.

whereas and while

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    This is true, but the while in the sentence given doesn’t refer to time either (hence B isn’t a valid answer). Oct 27, 2023 at 15:48
  • @JanusBahsJacquet While I was away=time. You can't say whereas there.
    – Lambie
    Oct 27, 2023 at 15:53
  • @JanusBahsJacquet Or you could reword that more like the structure of the example: Whereas the north has a milder climate, it is also wetter than the south. This also contrasts the weather of the north with the south. However, because of it is also, it means that both things are still true, and neither opposes/contradicts the other directly. Option B. "During the time" would not work here either, for the same reason. It's basically a fancy/formal way of saying "The north is milder but wetter than the south". Option E is the only viable answer here.
    – Billy Kerr
    Oct 27, 2023 at 16:01
  • @BillyKerr There are two sentences. The first is an example of whereas and while meaning the same thing. The second one is not because it deals with time. If you put in whereas for while in the second one, it no longer makes sense. How could this be any clearer?
    – Lambie
    Oct 27, 2023 at 16:03
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    @Lambie Yes, in “while I was away” it refers to time; as such, you could employ option B and substitute while with during the time that to make “during the time that I was away” and retain the meaning. But the sentence quoted in the question (“while the novel captures the daily life…”) does not refer to time, and a during the time that substitution would yield nonsense. So while the quote you give from Cambridge is perfectly true, it doesn’t relate to the sentence the question is asking about. Oct 27, 2023 at 22:50

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