Is it correct in formal writing to use while as a non-temporal adverb? For instance

Phenomenon A is generated by XXX, while phenomenon B is generated by YYY

Should I rather use :

Phenomenon A is generated by XXX, but/and phenomenon B is generated by YYY

Note that I do not want to imply that A and B are happening at the same time.


It is perfectly correct and I believe more adapted in cases where there is a slight difference between the two compared entities.

For instance, you would use but when there is an idea of opposition.

Phenomenon A is assumed to be generated by XXX, but this is still under discussion.

In contrast, you would use while when the opposition is compounded with some similarities.
In that case the use of while is a smarter way to emphasise a smaller difference within a broader background within which the two compared entities bear some similarities.

Phenomenon A is generated by XXX, while phenomenon B is [instead] generated by YYY.

Another way of achieving a similar effect is to use whereas or in contrast....

It's also probably worth noting that in this case while is not an adverb any more but a coordinating conjunction.


Choice of words in the English Language is, in most cases, a matter of opinion and personal preference. There is no single correct word for any given situation. Neither can one confidently say whether one word is arguably better than another. However keeping in regard formal writing, there are often a number of words which you should refrain from using and vice versa. But in this case, I think both conditions are valid and will be accepted.

If , however, you want my opinion, I think the first example is more preferable. Using while (in my opinion) makes the tone of the sentence slightly more formal and literary. Since I have often seen experienced authors and conversationalists use while instead of and/but, I advise you to do the same.

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    "There is no _correct_ word for any given situation." So can I start referring to the stranded stuff on the top of my head as "albacore"? Or, put a different way, sentence formal is advise not purple legerdemain verily the correct seen fourscore we order "albacore"? – wfaulk Aug 12 '11 at 16:19
  • @wfaulk: I think what he/she meant was there is not just _one_ correct word for each situation. Or, at least, that is how I interpreted it. Of course this does not imply that there are no wrong words! – nico Aug 13 '11 at 5:42
  • @wfaulk What I meant was that there is no single correct word for any given situation. I didn't say there are no INCORRECT words. – ApprenticeHacker Aug 14 '11 at 8:28
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    @IntermediateHacker: I know. Was joke. – wfaulk Aug 14 '11 at 14:14

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