[Grammar] Differences Between While & When

Hiya! The answer to the last episode is A.

“While” or “when” ? Sometimes we may be confused. So today we’re gonna talk about the differences and how to use them.

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1. Similarity

“While” and “when” are both used for actions – two actions happening at the same time.

While/When I was washing the dishes, my wife came home. (“Washing the dishes” has a duration, it is something in progress)

In this sentence, you can also use “when”, but as a general rule, “while” is suitable. Generally, if you want to focus on an action that has a duration being in progress, use while + continuous tense.

When my wife came home, I was washing the dishes. (The action “came” is short; it is not something in progress).

You cannot use “while” here because the action “came” is short. When the action is short and without a significant duration, use when + simple tense.

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2. While

He likes to listen to music while he is cooking/he cook.

We use “while” to talk about two longer actions happening at the same time. We can either simple or continuous tenses to show the two actions are in progress.

While I was cooking dinner, the phone rang.

We use “while” to show that a shorter action (usually in the past simple, e.g. the phone rang) happened during as a longer action (usually in past progressive, e.g. I was cooking dinner). Often this shorter action interrupts the longer action.

He wanted to go to Athens while his wife wanted to go to Paris.

“While” can also be used to indicate a contrast.

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3. When

He called me when I got home.

“When” can refer to two single actions that take place at the same time or an action that immediately follows another.

When I was 8…/When I was a child…/When I was young…etc.

We use “when” to talk about ages or periods of life. Because a period of life is not a specific time and is too long to use a continuous tense.

When did you come here?

We use “when” to ask questions about time.

 

4.When and while without a subject

We can use “when” and “while” without a verb, or without a subject + be:

Go past the village signpost and you get to a church. When there, take the next turning right. (formal)

He read his book while waiting for the bus. (while he was waiting)


Practice:

Fill the blank spaces with “while” or “when”.

_____ I called home, my brother picked up the phone. We were talking _____ my mother was listening in on our conversation. My brother said that she had tears in her eyes _____ I was talking about the birth.

Looking forward to your comments!

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