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.

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28 comments on “The Difference between During and While (English Grammar)

  1. Arif (Posted on 10-11-2017 at 13:36) Reply

    I have read your some writings covering another vs other etc. Your method to explain is excellent.
    I have learned new things from your teaching.Thanks.

    Would you please disscuss about when vs while, since,for,despite,inspite of etc.
    And determiner this,that,these and those.
    Wait to see your discussions.

    1. mb Post author (Posted on 10-12-2017 at 02:41) Reply

      Hello Arif. I’m glad to hear that you’ve found the site useful. I’m hoping the pages become more popular with students. I think your suggestion for a page about this/that/these/those is a great idea. I’ll add it to my ‘to do’ list, though I’m not sure whether it’ll be the next thing I post or not. If you add on Facebook, you’ll be able to see when a new post has been added. All the best in your studies and thank you for the feedback!

      1. Kral (Posted on 11-1-2021 at 14:29) Reply

        Hello, what is the correct answer during or while?

        One of the advantage of working from is you are able to do the laundry while/during on lunch?

        1. mb (Posted on 11-1-2021 at 15:17) Reply

          …’while on lunch’ or ‘during lunch’.

        2. Mezgebu Getachew (Posted on 11-9-2022 at 12:55) Reply

          I learned the way to explain about during vs while, thank you. But, why didn’t you add the uses of while with gerund?
          Eg. I saw him while stealing.

  2. Meenakshi (Posted on 10-21-2017 at 02:24) Reply

    Very nice and useful.thank you

  3. Junaid Chithari (Posted on 2-7-2018 at 01:33) Reply

    Sir, i have a doubt.
    What is the difference between HAD BETTER & MUST / HAVE TO?
    Could you please explain with suitable examples?

    1. MB (Posted on 2-7-2018 at 20:52) Reply

      must and have to are the same in meaning. They both are used for obligations. E.g. You must attend the party. ‘had better’ is used to give strong advice, but it’s still advice (and not an obligation). ‘Had better’ is used when there is some danger involved if you do not follow the advice.
      e.g. You had better quit smoking. (the danger: if you don’t, you’ll die)
      e.g. You should have lunch with me tomorrow. (here, if you said ‘you had better have lunch with me’, it would imply that if you don’t, there will be some danger. This doesn’t fit the situation so ‘should’ is more suitable.)

      I hope that helps.

  4. Anonymous (Posted on 4-2-2018 at 13:08) Reply

    Thank you for tips it’s very helpful for me

  5. Daniel (Posted on 4-6-2018 at 13:19) Reply

    It´s very clear.

  6. Anonymous (Posted on 11-22-2018 at 20:07) Reply

    thanks for your teaching, all is well explained
    we are waiting for you a news grammar lesson

  7. Briand Desamour (Posted on 11-28-2018 at 19:01) Reply

    Wow, I never thought of that but today I learn something different. I appreciate this tip very much. I am going to spend more time to study my grammar thoroughly so I can be more effective.
    Once again, thank you very much.

  8. Surendra (Posted on 12-24-2018 at 07:02) Reply

    Thanks for giving clear definition and suitable examples.

  9. meloxingronlop¼ (Posted on 10-19-2019 at 12:04) Reply

    not very good

  10. Anonymous (Posted on 5-2-2020 at 14:08) Reply

    Doubt is gone, Thankyou so much.

  11. Ragi (Posted on 9-19-2020 at 11:55) Reply

    thank you very much

  12. shan (Posted on 10-14-2020 at 09:55) Reply

    thank you

  13. Dileep Vishvakarma (Posted on 10-20-2020 at 20:05) Reply

    Thank you so much for helping us.

  14. Denny10X (Posted on 3-13-2021 at 00:52) Reply

    Thanks for the great post!
    Keep doing the great job!

    I’ll this web with my students.
    Teacher -Denny10X

  15. Kennel in (Posted on 3-17-2021 at 05:17) Reply


  16. Ildeaab (Posted on 5-11-2021 at 20:58) Reply

    Thanks for the information… It was really useful for me!

  17. Anonymous (Posted on 5-12-2021 at 23:43) Reply

    Thank you so much,,
    The explanation was great!
    crystal clear!

  18. Len Witucki (Posted on 10-5-2021 at 16:43) Reply

    What about the clause following while in: “I had a great idea while washing dishes.”? The “I was” after while is implied?

    1. MB (Posted on 10-5-2021 at 18:30) Reply

      Essentially, yes.

  19. Diksha (Posted on 12-6-2021 at 00:56) Reply

    Thanks alott,very nice way of representation

  20. 345667 (Posted on 10-6-2023 at 06:25) Reply

    Can we put during before gerund nouns ?

    1. mb Post author (Posted on 10-6-2023 at 07:38) Reply

      Hello. Use ‘while’ befound gerund nouns. e.g. ‘While sleeping, …’ (using ‘during’ here would be awkward/unnatural).

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