During vs. While? What is the difference?

While they might seem like the same words that can be used interchangeably, the difference between “during” is a preposition and “while” is a conjunction.

Read on to learn about when to use each word, the difference between prepositions and conjunctions, and an easy way to remember when to use each version of the word.

Using the word “during”

The word “during” found in the dictionary means “throughout the duration of”. It is a preposition, which is a word that is combined with nouns and used as an adverb to express a phrase.

The word “during” should always be followed by an activity. Examples of using the word during in a sentence are,

She is playing outside daily during the summer.
He chatted during the entire movie.

During is used as a description of something that is happening in a parallel time of something else.

When to use “while”

The word while is used to refer to another period of time within the background in which something else happened. “While” is a conjunction word, which is a word that joins together other words.

The word ‘while’ should be followed by a subject and verb. For example,

We can prepare the meat while the soup is cooking.
I think I lost my wallet while shopping at the mall today.

Both of these sentences signify an event, but they did not happen at the same time. Using the word ‘while’ means adding more information for context into the sentence structure.

Changing sentence to match the words

Due to the words ‘during’ and ‘while’ having the same meaning, you are able to change a sentence structure to match the word you would like to use. For example, you can change these sentences around to match their “during/while” word usage.

While I’m cooking dinner, can you find a movie?
Can you find a movie to watch during dinner?

Both of these sentences ask if someone can find a movie to watch. The difference is when the asking party wants them to do it. Using the word ‘while’ means finding the movie sooner than using the word ‘during’, considering that dinner should be cooked before eating.

If you are still unsure of which word to use, write out your sentence first. This way, when you read it back you will be able to decide which is the proper word to use. When reading the sentence back, using the incorrect word will fail to make sense.