The Difference between During and While (English Grammar)

These words are similar in meaning (function), but they are used different grammatically. The main difference between during and while is as follows:

A Noun is Used after ‘During’

For example,

  • During dinner, we talked about school.
  • She slept during the movie.
  • Do not talk during the test.

A noun always comes after the word ‘during’. The word during is a preposition, not a conjunction. You cannot say ‘During she…. / During I…‘  because the preposition is always followed by a noun, not a clause with a subject and a verb.

He made a joke during dinner.

He made a joke during dinner.

Side Note: We do not use during to say how long something happens. Instead, we use ‘for’. For example,

  • She slept during the movie. (This is okay — ‘the movie’ is not a length.)
  • She slept during two hours. (This is wrong — ‘two hours’ is a length of time.)
  • She slept for two hours. (Correct!)


A Clause is Used after ‘While’

A clause has a subject and a verb (not just a noun). For example,

  • While we ate dinner, we talked about school.
  • She slept while the movie played.
  • Do not talk while students write the test.

The word while is a subordinating conjunction (like the word because or if); it begins a subordinate clause. You need to put a subject and a verb after while to make a sentence, for example: While she studied, he watched TV.

That’s it. You can see that the words can be used in a similar way, but the grammar is different.

Do you understand? Let’s try some exercises.

During vs. While: Practice Exercises

  1. Several glasses were broken  the party.
  2. I don’t use my cellphone  I drive.
  3. No one spoke  the first 30 minutes of the meeting.
  4. People don’t go outside  the cold winter months.
  5.  we waited for a table, Doreen and I discussed our plans for after dinner.
  6. Because she had studied English  her childhood, she was could speak well when she arrived in Canada.
  7.  the lecture, the Professor spoke  his students listened.



I hope this lesson has been useful and you are clearer on the difference between during and while. Please leave a comment below if you have a question or you find a mistake.

— Created by Matthew Barton (copyright) of

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