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He left the house _ I was still sleeping

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

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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.)

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  • I thought that was GR. Or at least fit for ELL.
    – Kris
    Feb 25 '13 at 11:42

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