Main Difference – When vs. While
When and while are two conjunctions that can be generally used to talk about situations or actions that take place at the same time. They are often used with past continuous tense to refer to background events. Though these conjunctions can be used interchangeably in some cases, there exists a difference between them. As two conjunction, the main difference between when and while is that when can be used to talk about the age or periods of life whereas while cannot be used in such a sense.
When – Meaning and Usage
As a conjunction, When can mean at the time that. We used it to two connect two actions that happened at the same time or an action that immediately follows another. It can also introduce a single completed event that took place in the middle of a longer activity or event.
I like to wear casual clothes when I’m on holiday. – At the same time
He came out when I rang the bell. – Immediately after
He was walking home from school when he heard the news. – introduce a single completed event that took place in the middle of a longer activity or event
When can be especially used to talk about ages and periods of life. We can talk about the past, present and future using this conjunction.
When I was little, I wanted to be a firefighter.
Call me when you start the demonstration.
When he returns, I will tell him everything.
You can go out when you have finished your homework.
However, it should be noted that when we are using when to talk about the future, we use simple present or present perfect, not future tenses. This can be observed in the last two examples.
While – Meaning and Usage
While is a conjunction that can be used to indicate actions and events that take place at the same time in the present, past and future. While can be specifically used, instead of when, if we are talking about two long actions or events that happen at the same time.
The little boy waited in the car while his mother did her grocery shopping.
He likes to listen to music while cooking.
The ladies were lying on the beach, sunbathing while their children played volleyball.
In addition, this conjunction can also be used to indicate a contrast. For example, consider the sentence, “He wanted to go to Athens while his wife wanted to go to Paris.” Here, two sentences which indicate contrasts are joined by the conjunction while.
Difference Between When and While
When can be used as an interrogative adjective, relative adverb and a conjunction.
While can be used as a noun and a conjunction.
When, as a conjunction, can refer to actions that take place at the same time or an action that immediately follows another.
While, as a conjunction, can refer to actions or situations that take place at the same time.
When does not indicate a contrast.
While can be used to indicate a contrast.
Period of Life
When is used to talk about ages and periods of life.
While cannot be used to talk about ages and periods of life.