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Please have a look at these sentence pairs:

    • When I worked as a teacher, I met a good friend.
    • While I was working as a teacher, I met a good friend.
    • When I had a dream, I thought of the idea.
    • While I was having a dream, I thought of the idea.

Which ones are correct? And why?

closed as off-topic by AmE speaker, tmgr, Chenmunka, Glorfindel, Tushar Raj Jan 9 at 16:15

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  • The when variant in the first case, the while variant in the second. You didn't meet the friend while you were working, just generally at the time when you were a teacher. And you had more than one dream in your life, while "when I had a dream" suggests you only dreamt once. That being said, I'd swap around or even completely reword the dream sentence. – RegDwigнt Dec 11 '13 at 11:59
  • Better on ell.se ? – Kris Dec 11 '13 at 12:48
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When I worked as a teacher, I met a good friend.

This sentence means, "During the time of my life when I worked as a teacher, I met a good friend."

While I was working as a teacher, I met a good friend.

This sentence means, "While I was on duty working as a teacher, I met a good friend."

The difference is that "when" is referring to a time or period of your life and "while" is referring to the act of working as a teacher. Both could be correct depending on context.


When I had a dream, I thought of the idea.

This sentence is rather meaningless. "When" doesn't really refer to a specific time or period and, therefore, isn't an appropriate use of the word.

While I was having a dream, I thought of the idea.

This sentence means, "While I was actively dreaming, I thought of the idea."

The difference between "when" and "while is the same as before. "When" should be used to refer to specific time periods or eras; "while" should be used to refer to a particular activity or behavior.

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