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According to many dictioanaries, when and while are interchangeable when they are used to refer to something that happens at the same time or during the time that something is happening. But recently I've been bothered by several exercises.

a. While they were driving along breezily, they passed a farmer on a mule.

b. When the emperor was playing the football, a high fast spinning ball was shot beyond the huge compound.

c. While only a mere eunuch of the humblest rank with no chances of contacting the emperor, he happened to be a superb player of football.

d. While watching the motion picture Titannic, we became tense and held our breath for the fate of the characters who were in great danger.

My reference book holds.that the answer should be either when or while. But aren't they interchangeable? Does the reference book tell the correct answers? If it is right, why? Please help me! Thanks a lot!
Comments 
The two words are largely (but not 100%) interchangeable. To make it a little easier for my students, I advise them to use 'while' with progressive tenses (or similar situations) and 'when' with simple tenses. Then, when they feel more comfortable with the nuances (usually acquired by living in the language for a period of time), they will have a better feeling for when the two words are not interchangeable.

While it was raining I was reading a book.

While it was raining I fell asleep.

When I woke up this morning it was raining.

When I woke up this morning I fell out of bed.

In your sentence (c), 'while' carries the meaning of 'although' (over a period of time).

Hi

The word while can refer to time -- just as the word when does. When the word while refers to time, it is very commonly used with the past continuous. Therefore, while is the best choice in a, b and d. However, the word when is also possible in a and b. (Using when sounds a bit awkward in d because it's not immediately clear which tense is intended.)

The word while in sentence c has a different meaning. It does not refer to time at all; in my opinion, it means although.

You need to be careful with while and when.
For example:
- When he closed the window, I closed the door.
This sounds as if you closed the door after he closed the window.
- While he closed the window, I closed the door.
In this sentence, the window and the door were closed simultaneously.
YankeeHi

The word while can refer to time -- just as the word when does. When the word while refers to time, it is very commonly used with the past continuous. Therefore, while is the best choice in a, b and d. However, the word when is also possible in a and b. (Using when sounds a bit awkward in d because it's not immediately clear which tense is intended.)

The word while in sentence c has a different meaning. It does not refer to time at all; in my opinion, it means although.

You need to be careful with while and when.
For example:
- When he closed the window, I closed the door.
This sounds as if you closed the door after he closed the window.
- While he closed the window, I closed the door.
In this sentence, the window and the door were closed simultaneously.


Hi!

I also have questions with when and while for Past Continous. First of all, are they just "words"? Can I say that are words used as connectors? I mean, when and while are not prepositions, are they?

Is there any special grammar rule for its use in Past Continous? I told my son, as a rule:

1. action verb + ing / when / action verb in past tense:

I was taking a bath when my mother called me.

(if I interchange when per while, the meaning is not the same)

2. action verb + ing / while / action verb + ing:

I was doing my home work while my father was watching TV.

..... but I so another example with while as: action verb in past tense / while / action verb :

I broke my ankle while I was playing football.

So, any special rule? Interchangables when possible? ??????

Help.

Regina.
I believe that no one can come up with true explanation when to use when and while so let us not worry about them and let us just use them instinctively .
Sound better is not it ????