English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

He left the house _ I was still sleeping

Would this sentence be better completed with when or with while?

share|improve this question

The choice really hinges on the durative or punctual aspect of the particular verb (or verb construction, like was sleeping) in the adverbial clause. To illustrate the difference:

He left the house when the taxi arrived. (taxi arrived: punctual, point-in-time aspect)

He left the house while I was still sleeping. (I was still sleeping: durative, extended aspect)

There is sometimes a choice, to indicate the intended aspect:

He was in the playground when the children arrived. (They all came essentially at the same time.)

He was in the playground while the children arrived. (They came over a period of time.) (Here, children were arriving would probably be preferable.)

share|improve this answer
I thought that was GR. Or at least fit for ELL. – Kris Feb 25 '13 at 11:42
Thank you for the input. – Anon8889 Feb 25 '13 at 14:35

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.