In the sentence:

I will watch while you sleep.

I believe 'while' is an adverb because it is adding information to the verb 'watch' i.e. I'll be doing some action (watching), but the action would be happening while you're sleeping.

Am I thinking right?

  • 1
    A tip: first decide are you dealing with a simple or a complex sentence. If it is a complex sentence, then you can have an adverbial clause (a whole simple sentence) which is modifying the verb in the main clause. Subordinate (in this case adverbial) and the main clause are linked by a conjunction.
    – Lucky
    Commented May 11, 2015 at 0:05

2 Answers 2


No, while as used is a conjunction:

2) during or throughout the time that ⇒ "we waited while she dined"

It is joining two phrases, I will watch and you sleep. For example:

I will watch the kids while you go to the store.


While is not an adverb; it is the entire phrase headed by while which acts as an adverb.

In traditional grammar while is classified as a subordinating conjunction, because it joins a full declarative subordinate clause (you sleep in your example) to the main clause.

But the widely-followed Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (Huddleston and Pullum, 2002) disputes this classification, arguing that it makes no sense to classify terms on the basis of the sort of complements they take. We do not reclassify verbs when they take clausal complements instead of nominal complements, or no complement at all. CGEL classifies while as a preposition:

We therefore include in the preposition category all of the subordinating conjunctions of traditional grammar, with three exceptions. The exceptions are, first, whether; second, those occurrences of if that are equivalent to whether [...]; and, third, that when it introduces a subordinate clause. (CGEL, 600)

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