Which do I use? “During” or “While”?

clock during while English timeDuring and while have similar meanings so students often confuse them. What are some tips for understanding the difference?

During is a preposition. It means “in a period of time.”

Some common collocations with during are:

  • During class
  • During the day
  • During the exam
  • During the flight

Each of the nouns lasts for a period of time—a class fifty minutes, a day 24 hours, an exam two hours, a flight ten hours. The events of the main clause happened in that time period.

During the class, we studied vocabulary.

During the day, I drink a lot of coffee.

While is a subordinator.

It makes an adverb clause of time, and is usually followed by a subject and a verb. The verb is in the continuous form—present or past continuous. Here are some examples:

  • While I am studying / While I was studying
  • While she is working / While she was working
  • While they are taking the test / While they were taking the test

While can also be followed by just the present participle (-ing form) of a verb. This is a reduced adverb clause of time.

While studying

While working

While taking the test

We would never mix these forms together. To say “during taking a test” or “while a test” would be wrong.

Practice: Which do you need? During or While? (Answers below)

  1. ____________________ sleeping, I don’t like noise.
  1. ____________________ the night, I prefer silence.
  1. We shouldn’t talk ___________________ a test.
  1. We shouldn’t talk ___________________ people are taking an exam.
  1. ____________________ I was riding on the bus, I saw many people on their phones.
  1. ____________________ my bus ride, I saw many people on their phones.
  1. Do players ever eat ___________________ a game?
  1. Do players ever eat ___________________ they are playing a game?

Answers: While, during, during, while, while. during, during, while.

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