Difference Between When and While

When vs While
 

The difference between when and while actually exists more in their usage than in their meaning. That is why one can say that when and while are two words that are often confused when it comes to their usage. They are normally confused as words conveying the same meaning due to the appearing similarity in their connotations. There is of course some difference between the two words. The word when is often used in the sense of ‘once’. On the other hand, the word while is used in the sense of ‘even as’. This is the main difference between the two words.

What does When mean?

The word when is often used in the sense of once. Take a look at the two sentences given below:

You bring that book when you come home next time.

The batsman walks back to the pavilion when he gets out.

In both the sentences given above, the word when is used in the sense of ‘once.’ Hence, the first sentence would be rewritten as ‘you bring that book once you come home next time’, and the second sentence could be rewritten as ‘the batsman walks back to the pavilion once he gets out’.
It is interesting to note that the word when is used sometimes in the formation of interrogative questions indicating time as in the sentence ‘when will you come again?’ In this sentence, the word ‘when’ is used in the interrogative sense indicating time.

According to BBC, when, not while, is used to speak about an action that occurs at the same time as a longer action or event that is described in the main clause.

I was doing my homework when Lara barged in.

Sally was making a cake when her baby started to cry.

In both of the sentences given above, doing homework and making a cake are the longer actions. Lara barging in and the baby starting to cry happen at once while the other longer event is already taking place. Notice that here when is used to introduce the short action that happens at once.

Difference Between When and While

What does While mean?

The word while is often used in the sense of even as. Look at the two sentences given below:

She entered the house while her friend was having coffee.

Francis passed the book to me while she was writing a letter.

In both the sentences, the word while is used in the sense of ‘even as.’ Hence, the meaning of the first sentence would be ‘she entered the house even as her friend was having coffee’ and the meaning of the second sentence would be ‘Francis passed the book to me even as she was writing a letter’. This is an important observation to make when it comes to studying the usage of the word while.

According to BBC, we use while to describe the longer action of two events or to talk about two longer actions that go on simultaneously.

While Barbara was sleeping, her dog started to bark.

While I was washing the dishes, my sister was cleaning the dining room.

In the first sentence, the longer action is sleeping. Therefore, while is used with sleeping. Then in the second sentence, both actions of washing and cleaning are longer actions that take place at the same time. So we use while.

What is the difference between When and While?

• The word when is often used in the sense of ‘once’.

• On the other hand, the word while is used in the sense of ‘even as’.

• The word when is used sometimes in the formation of interrogative questions indicating time.

• When, not while, is used to speak about an action that occurs at the same time as a longer action or event that is described in the main clause.

• We use while to describe the longer action of two events or to talk about two longer actions that go on simultaneously.