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    #1

    Smile when & while

    I want to know whether we can only use "while" in the situation below:

    We were playing basketball while they were going shopping yesterday.

    or it's okay to say "We were playing basketball "when" they were going shopping yesterday."

    Thank you.

  1. Power English's Avatar
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    #2

    Re: when & while

    Often these words may be interchangeable, but they carry subtle differences.

    We can use while to talk about two longer events or activities happening at the same time.

    We can use when to introduce a single completed event that takes place in the middle of a longer activity, such as an interruption. Eg. He was running when the car backfired and gave him a fright.
    I am a native English speaker with an interest in the English language. I am not a qualified English teacher.

    http://www.power-english.co.uk - High quality proofreading and editing services.

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    #3

    Re: when & while

    Thank you for answering my question.
    So when can be used to connecting two progressive clauses as while can, right?
    Last edited by Sin-Yu Tsai; 24-Mar-2015 at 03:35.

  2. bhaisahab's Avatar
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    #4

    Re: when & while

    I find both unnatural with "going".

  3. emsr2d2's Avatar
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    #5

    Re: when & while

    I wouldn't use the continuous at all in your sentence.

    We played basketball while they went shopping.
    Remember - if you don't use correct capitalisation, punctuation and spacing, anything you write will be incorrect.

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    #6

    Re: when & while

    The OP wanted to emphasis the activity happening at the same time.

    Am I wrong? emsr2d2

    Not a teacher.
    Last edited by Polyester; 24-Mar-2015 at 04:46.

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    #7

    Re: when & while

    You do not use the past continuous tense when you can use the simple past.
    Remember, in writing, the simplest is usually the best.

    not a teacher

  4. Raymott's Avatar
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    #8

    Re: when & while

    I can understand why the OP used the continuous tense in asking about 'while'. I can think of two contexts where they go together.
    1) Two ongoing things occurring simultaneously.
    "I was watching TV while she was doing the dishes." Even so, we'd normally say, "I was watching TV while she did the dishes." Or both in past tense, as ems says.
    2) Something interrupts an ongoing event.
    "While I was watching TV, lightning struck it."

    These constructions are often used to teach the meaning of 'while' (and differentiate it from 'when'), because 'while' signifies something ongoing. But that doesn't mean we actually have to use the continuous tenses. 'While' carries the continuous meaning with it.

  5. emsr2d2's Avatar
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    #9

    Re: when & while

    The main problem with the original sentence is "while they were going shopping". That's unnatural. It's perfectly possible to use the continuous in this context but I would prefer:

    We were playing basketball while they were shopping.
    We were playing basketball while they were out shopping.

    Having said that, I still wouldn't use the continuous in the first half of the sentence:

    We played basketball while they were out shopping.
    Remember - if you don't use correct capitalisation, punctuation and spacing, anything you write will be incorrect.

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