While vs when?

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Hi again Emotion: smile
Could you tell me what is the difference between "while" and "when"? Can I use them interchangeably, e.g "While/While I was in Italy I went to see Alessandro."

Thank you.
Full Member445
MagdaHi again Emotion: smile
Could you tell me what is the difference between "while" and "when"? Can I use them interchangeably, e.g "While/While I was in Italy I went to see Alessandro."

Thank you.
Hi Magda

You can choose either one of your whiles.Emotion: smileMore seriously, while is often used to refer to long-lasting action:

The phone rang while/when I was taking a bath. But:
I bumped into an old friend when I turned a corner. ( It doesn't take you a long time to turn a corner.)

Cheers
CB
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Proficient Speaker: Users in this role are known to maintain an excellent grasp of the English language. You can only be promoted to this role by the Englishforums team.Trusted Users: Trusted users are allowed to use additional capabilities of the site such as private messaging to all users and various other advanced features. You cannot join this role unless you are promoted by an administrator.
*While I went out, it was raining. -- unacceptable

When I went out, it was raining. -- acceptable

While it was raining, I went out. -- acceptable

When it was raining, I went out. – also acceptable

?While it was raining, I was going out. -- questionable

?When it was raining, I was going out.-- questionable

Comments:

While and when are very often used in sentences that have both the past

progressive and simple past tenses. When this happens, while refers only to a

(comparatively) long action, but when can refer to either a (comparatively)

long or short action. In these situations, the short action interrupts the long

action (which began before the short action happened).

In the first example, went out is a shorter action than was raining, so when

should be used, not while.

In the third and fourth examples, both while and when are possible, since when

can refer to both (comparatively) long actions and (comparatively) short

ones and while is appropriate with (comparatively) long actions only.

The last two examples are grammatical, but probably not logical. They mean

that for the entire period of time that it was raining, you were going out.

It's much more logical that "go out" is short, while "rain" is long. For that

reason, having two past progressive verbs doesn't seem logical.

Dennis Oliver

Estrella Mountain Community College

Avondale, Arizona U.S.A.

They can have the same meaning if one or both of the actions is/are long.

However, if both actions are short, we use "when."

e.g. When/While I was eating dinner, I was watching TV.

When/While I was watching TV, I threw up!

When I threw up, I dropped my fork.

I hope this helps.

Mike

We prefer when to refer to ages and periods of life.

When I was a child we lived in London. -- acceptable

*While I was a child we lived in London. -- unacceptable

His parents died when he was twelve. -- acceptable

*His parents died while he was twelve. -- unacceptable

Michael Swan
Contributing Member1,620
Hejsan, Cool Breeze and thank you a lot Emotion: smile
Teo, many thanks for your post!
Magda:

Your confusion seems to stem from the fact that you seem to assume that
when=at
when in effect it can also mean:
when=while, during that time
as shown at 1 here:
------------

when

Function: conjunction

1 a : at or during the time that : WHILE<on one occasion, when a boy, I went fishing with three other boys -- W.J.Reilly> <I could not say "Amen!" when they did say "God bless us!" -- Shakespeare> b : just after the moment that <please stop writing when the bell rings> <went back to his old job when the war ended> c : at any and every time that <when he listens to music, he falls asleep>


-----------
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Thank you, Marious. My confusion is cleared up now Emotion: smile.
Marius HancuMagda:

Your confusion seems to stem from the fact that you seem to assume that
when=at
when in effect it can also mean:
when=while, during that time

Hi Marius

This is really none of my business but in Magda's native language (at least I assume that Swedish is her native language) there is a conjuction that covers the temporal meanings of both when and while. The word is när, and incidentally in my mother tongue (Finnish) there is a similar word (kun). Understandably, there may be problems when we have to choose between two English words even though we can manage with just one in our own languages.

Cheers
CB
Proficient Speaker: Users in this role are known to maintain an excellent grasp of the English language. You can only be promoted to this role by the Englishforums team.Trusted Users: Trusted users are allowed to use additional capabilities of the site such as private messaging to all users and various other advanced features. You cannot join this role unless you are promoted by an administrator.
Cool Breeze
Marius HancuMagda:

Your confusion seems to stem from the fact that you seem to assume that
when=at
when in effect it can also mean:
when=while, during that time

Hi Marius

This is really none of my business but in Magda's native language (at least I assume that Swedish is her native language) there is a conjuction that covers the temporal meanings of both when and while. The word is när, and incidentally in my mother tongue (Finnish) there is a similar word (kun). Understandably, there may be problems when we have to choose between two English words even though we can manage with just one in our own languages.

Hi Cool Breeze Emotion: smile

that's why I find the usage while/when sometimes problematic.
I wish I could speak English as you do!

Best regards,
Magda
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