'While' is a commonly used word that has many functions. In this lesson, we will discover all about it.

How to Use "While" in English?

'While' is a common word among native English speakers. It is used to function as a conjunction, a noun, and a verb. In this lesson, we will discuss how to learn and use it.

Functions of 'While'

'While' as a Conjunction

One of the main uses of 'while' is to be a conjunction. Below, we will learn about the kind of conjunction it is and how it works:


'While' as a Subordinating Conjunction

'While' is a subordinating conjunction and it connects a subordinate clause to the main one. Look at the following examples for more clarification:

  • We mostly use 'while' to signify that something is done during another action. Look:

He talked on the phone while I was trying to go to sleep.

As you can see, an action is happening at the same time as another action.

She thought she saw me leave while she was having lunch with her friends.

  • 'While' can also mean 'despite the fact that'. Take a look at the following examples:

While I respect you in all manners, I still insist that you are mistaken in this case.

While I care for you, I also sympathize with your mother greatly.

  • We can also use 'while' to show comparison and contrast. Take a look:

I make all the money while she just consumes everything.

Katy is a tough girl while her brother is easy going.

Position in a Sentence

Since 'while' is a subordinating conjunction here, we can put it at the beginning of the subordinate clause or between the two clauses. Look:

I was thinking to myself while I heard you talk behind me.

Here, it has been put between the two clauses.

While she pretends not to care about you, deep down she is caring and kind.

Here, it has been put at the beginning of the dependent clause.


Please note that whenever we use 'while' at the beginning of the sentence, we must put a comma between the two clauses. Take a look:

While she was awake, I read a story to her.

While she was talking to me, I noticed how big her eyes were.

'While' as a Noun


We can also use 'while' as a noun to refer to a period of time. Study the following examples carefully:

Stay a little while longer, would you?

Here, we are asking the addressee to spend a little more time with us.

Remain silent for a while so as not to hurt your vocal chords more.

Position in a Sentence

'While' as a noun can be used as the subject, the object of the verb, or preposition. Look:

After a while, he drifted off to the dream world.

Here, it is the subject.

She was reading for a while, but then she suddenly disappeared right before my eyes.

Here, it is the object of a preposition.

'While' as a Verb


We can also use 'while' as a verb. It is used to indicate passing time. Study the following examples:

What do you do to while away the long, hot afternoons in summer?

She is sleeping to while away the evening.

Position in a Sentence

Since 'while' is a verb here, it mainly comes after the subject unless we have an imperative sentence in which the sentence begins with the verb. Please note that if there is an auxiliary verb, it must come before the main verb. Look:

She whiled away the afternoon as she knitted.

While vs. Meanwhile

These two words are the same in that they both mean 'at the same time'. However, the structure of the sentences in which they are used is different. 'While' is a conjunction used to join two sentences whereas 'meanwhile' is a linking adverb and is used at the beginning of the sentences mostly. Take a look:

I couldn't read while hearing my mother talk.

I was running for my class. Meanwhile, It started to rain.


It might come in handy to know that in formal British English, they use 'whilst' instead of 'while'. However, their meanings are the same. Look:

I am going to the balcony to eat my cake whilst I enjoy the view.

Idioms with 'While'

We have some idioms with 'while' that are helpful to know. We will learn all about them here:

  • Every once in a while: This one is used when we want to indicate that something sometimes happen. Look:

I go camping every once in a while.

My sister visits grandma every once in a while.

  • All the while: This one is used to refer to all of a specific period of time. Take a look:

I thought you were studying in your room but it turns out that you had been playing all the while.

I wanted honesty yet you kept lying to my face all the while.


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