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Someone help me

What is the difference between when and while?
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Comments  (Page 2) 
Hi Jim,

Thanks for the interesting comments and questions.

What's your explanation for the use of while, not when, in the following:

Make hay while the sun shines. It seems to me the idea is that the sun is shining for a period of time, during which you can make hay.
Something very amusing happened while you were out.
Again, the focus is that you were out for a period of time, time that had duration.

we also say things like When I was young, I was very thin and When you are older, you'll understand, and both the stages in life when one is young or old extend over a duration of time-- yet, here we use when, not while.) These are certainly more difficult to explain clearly. Perhaps here we use 'when' because we are thinking of it as At the time that I was young..?

I certainly wouldn't want to maintain that I can clearly explain every usage of when/while.Emotion: smileWhat I try to do is to use the simplest examples that I can think of to teach my class that these two words are not exactly the same.

After we have gone through that, I always tell my students that the way we use 'when' and 'while' is not clear cut, that sometimes we interchange them, that sometimes it's just idiomatic, sometimes we are just careless.

Clive

Thanks for the input, Clive! There are certainly some subtle factors at play here. One day I may take the time to analyze it more rigorously to see if there are some hidden principles at work which I am missing so far. Emotion: smile

CJ
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1. When the phone rang, I was taking a shower.

2. While I was taking a shower, the phone rang.

3. When I was taking a shower, the phone rang.

4. While the phone rang, I was taking a shower.

Here how would you explain the difference between 2 and 3?

Does 4 mean the ringing lasted throughout the shower?

1. When the phone rang, I was taking a shower.

2. While I was taking a shower, the phone rang.

3. When I was taking a shower, the phone rang.

4. While the phone rang, I was taking a shower.

Here how would you explain the difference between 2 and 3? I would say that they are very similar, in that the continuous tense in both focuses on the duration of the shower activity, but I would also say that the addition of 'while' adds more emphasis on this duration.

Does 4 mean the ringing lasted throughout the shower? Not to me. That's certainly not how I would say it in such a case.

Best wishes, Clive

4. While the phone rang, I was taking a shower.

Does 4 mean the ringing lasted throughout the shower? Not to me. That's certainly not how I would say it in such a case.

Hi, not the ringing throughout the shower, but the shower thoughout the ringing, I think.

While someone is doing something, something else happens. ( a point on a line ------------------0--------------)
While someone does something, something else happens. (a line on a line,

)

I don't know how to explain this better... Emotion: smile

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Hi,

There's also While the phone rang, I took a shower. (Compare When the phone rang, I took a shower.)

Yes, there's a lot of subtlety of meaning in these things. Don't forget that we are just looking at isolated sentences. I think that in the real world the context usually makes the meaning reasonably clear. Emotion: smile

Clive
Clive
Hi,

There's also While the phone rang, I took a shower. (Compare When the phone rang, I took a shower.)

Yes, there's a lot of subtlety of meaning in these things. Don't forget that we are just looking at isolated sentences. I think that in the real world the context usually makes the meaning reasonably clear. Emotion: smile

Clive

When the phone rang, I took a shower. This shows a sequence. First, the telephone rang. Then, I took a shower.

but it is hard to explain what is meant by "While the phone rang, I took a shower." Maybe this is not a good example to explain this. Under normal conditions, we do not need to explain that we were taking a shower while the phone was ringing, do we? Or the question is: does "while the phone was ringing" express a point in time, rather than a period, like "when the phone rang"? because it is pointless to say I was taking a shower and at the same time the phone was ringing unless humour is meant.
Btw: There is a nice idiom, which is being used in the sentences, where you want to express, that someone called you repeatedly. So in your context it would be.

While the phone has been ringing of the hook, I was taking a shower.

Anyway, this is an american english, isn't it?

JCD
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Hi,

Typo - ringing off the hook (ie ringing so long and hard that the receiver falls off the phone rest.)

Clive
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