The north of the country is mountainous while the south is flat.

= The north of the country is mountainous whereas (although would be incorrect) the south is flat.

The north of the country while it is mountainous is more densely populated than the south, which is flat.

= The north of the country although (whereas would be incorrect) it is mountainous is more densely populated than the south, which is flat.

Why is it impossible to use 'although' in the first sentence, and 'whereas' in the second, where 'while' can be used in both?

  • 5
    Why can't you use although in the first sentence? – Peter Shor Aug 9 '15 at 11:42
  • 1
    Agreed. Although is perfectly grammatical, and so are but, and, though, and however. So you're starting off with the wrong rules; maybe you need to rethink the question? – John Lawler Aug 9 '15 at 19:31
  • @PeterShor: because there is no ground for deducing that the south of the country is flat from the fact that the north is mountainous, whereas what normally happens in most countries in the world is that the areas that are mountainous are less populated than the ones that are flat (provided they are not deserts!), so, from the fact that the north of the country is mountainous, you have grounds for deducing that is must be or is very likely to be less densely populated. – user58319 Aug 11 '15 at 16:07
  • @PeterShor: 'While-whereas' is used when there is no idea of result, of a cause and effect relationship, and 'while-although' is used when there is. 'While', 'one thing at the same time as another' just states a co-occurrence which can be owed to a cause and effect relationship or not, which 'whereas' and 'although' detail. – user58319 Aug 11 '15 at 16:15
  • @user58319 In the absence of additional context, neither although nor while suggests causality or dependency on its own, only contradistinction (like those John Lawler suggested, and others like yet). In context it can have that meaning, but otherwise, I would need a different conjunction that more strongly expresses a contrast that is unexpected, like even though or despite that. – choster Aug 11 '15 at 16:28

Because while is serving two different functions in both sentences, ie. Although or whereas. While can also mean 'occurring at the same time', like in the sentence "while my parents were cooking, I was watching TV". You can't substitute 'although' or 'whereas' for 'while' there either without changing the tone of the sentence. Sometimes words just have multiple meanings.

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  • and the reason you cannot replace 'while' with either 'although' or 'whereas' in your sentence is that there is no contrast, no opposition between 'cook' and 'watch TV' whereas there is between 'mountainous areas' and 'flat areas', between 'more densely populated' and 'less densely populated'. 'While' can carry the idea of time only, time and contrast only, or time, contrast, and (thwarted) causality – user58319 Aug 11 '15 at 16:32

Although still works OK in the first sentence; it's not impossible. Your example just happens to be capable of bearing the meaning "in spite of the fact that . . ". You could even use "but" in that particular sentence.

"Although" fails as a subordinating conjunction when there is no reasonable expectation of one thing from the other. You wouldn't say "Nepal has mountains although Holland is flat", except in really special situations. But comparing two areas of the same country is more likely.

Much less happy with is mountains and is plains. You need adjectives there, like "mountainous" and "flat", not nouns, especially plural nouns.

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  • I followed your suggestion, although, I think 'is (made of/consists in) mountains/plains' can easily be understood and is not poor usage. – user58319 Aug 11 '15 at 16:21
  • Like the contrastive 'while', 'but' can carry the idea of cause and effect or not, there is a 'but-although-even though' and a 'but-whereas-instead' – user58319 Aug 11 '15 at 17:26

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