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"While I hate to watch TV, my wife loves it very much." (self-made) When denoting a contrast, "while" is to be in the beginning of the first clause.

I complained about the unfair competition in getting the official position in the government, while my father told me that he was ruled out from the Union because of his ethnicity. (self-made)

In this sentence, "while" means no contrast, just that something happens at the same time. It seems, to mean "happen at the same time", "while" better be situated in the second clause. Is it so?

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  • While (or any similar word) does not need to be at the beginning of the first clause. I hate to watch TV, while my wife loves it very much. Whereas I hate to watch TV, my wife loves it very much. I hate to watch TV, whereas my wife loves it very much. All three of those examples are grammatically correct. That has nothing to do with whether while means although or at the same time. That is determined by context/diction, not syntax. Sep 29, 2013 at 23:47
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    – Mari-Lou A
    Oct 2, 2013 at 5:22

2 Answers 2

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No, the position in the sentence does not change the meaning. ‘While’ has both meanings (indicating either contrast or co-occurrence) in both positions in the sentence.

Or rather, to be more exact, ‘while’ only has one position in the sentence: at the very head (start) of the clause. The difference in your two examples is the order of the main clause and the subordinate clause—and this order makes no difference for ‘while’. The only thing that determines what ‘while’ has is context, as with so many other things:

1a: I hate to watch TV, while my wife loves it.
1a: While my wife loves to watch TV, I hate it.

2a: My wife talked about her day while I had lunch.
2b: While I had lunch, my wife talked about her day.

Sentences A and B in both these pairs mean the exact same thing, regardless of the order of the clauses.

In A, where the subordinate clause follows the main clause, there is a natural pause in speech separating the clauses when the meaning is one of contrast, but (usually) not when it is one of co-occurrence. As such, you can distinguish the two meanings fairly clearly by adding a comma in the contrastive case.

In B, where the subordinate clause precedes the main clause, there is always a natural pause in speech between the clauses, and a comma nearly always sets the two apart, so the ambiguity remains.

There is one way you can often force the co-occurrent sense to prevail: by using a progressive verb form in the subordinate clause and a non-progressive one in the main clause. In cases where the meaning is contrastive, this can sometimes be quite impossible, but it is always possible where the sense is one of co-occurrence:

1: I hate to watch TV while my wife is loving it. ✘
2: My wife talked about her day while I was having lunch. ✔

This does not always work, though (especially when the subordinate clause heads the sentence—one instance where it appears the order of the clauses does make a difference):

3: While I was living in squalor, my brother mingled with celebs and the nouveau riche.

This example could show either co-occurrence or contrast, but will most likely be understood contrastively.

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  • Isn't there a third 'while', meaning 'although', (contrasting two elements taken in a cause and effect relationship) as in 'While there is sun, the weather is not warm'? The only difference being that 'while' has to come at the beginning of the sentence, whereas 'although' can be found in the middle of the sentence if it starts with the main clause: 'The weather isn't warm although there is sun,' but not 'The weather isn't warm while there is sun.'
    – user58319
    Nov 1, 2018 at 13:17
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While shows the contrast between two situations. Regarding your second sentence, it can mean both contrast and happening at the same time. To avoid confusion, I'd suggest using while at the same time.

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    I'm not sure adding at the same time necessarily resolves any potential ambiguity. Let's face it, while, as, [but] at the same time, etc., can all be used to mean concurrently and/or contrastingly. On the other hand, OP could use some alternative unambiguous conjunction such as yet, but, however to clearly indicate the contrastive sense. Sep 29, 2013 at 15:11
  • ... whereas (for contrastive 'while'). Sep 29, 2013 at 15:27
  • That sentence cannot connote any other meaning than whereas or although (not without changing the syntax at least). There is no ambiguity. While I suppose one could say At the same time I hate TV, my wife loves it, it's a touch ungrammatical to say the least. And even if you did move while to make it fit both definitions, it doesn't change the meaning. I hate TV, whereas my wife loves it and I hate to watch TV, but at the same time my wife loves it mean exactly the same thing. Ambiguity is not a factor in the question. Sep 29, 2013 at 23:53

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