Oxford Dictionary says: "while-at the same time as sth else is happening eg: You can go swimming while I'm having lunch." so I am confused. Why doesn't Daddy Pig say "You go and dry yourselves while I'm polishing the car."?

  • 3
    Why do you think you go and dry yourselves while I polish the car is unacceptable? Despite what they seem to teach in ESL classes, there are lots of sentence in English where more than one verb form is grammatical. This is one of them. Feb 17, 2021 at 15:16
  • 1
    There is no hard-and-fast rule for this; it depends on the speaker's estimate of the relative time required for the two activities. Evidently the speaker in the Oxford example expects to have a long, leisurely lunch; Daddy Pig expects to have finished polishing the car by the time Mummy and the children are dry! Feb 17, 2021 at 15:22
  • @Peter Shor Because the dictionary says while doing. Do you mean that both are ok?
    – fei
    Feb 17, 2021 at 15:32
  • @fei: I mean both are okay. Feb 17, 2021 at 16:55
  • Perhaps this source might help: ' While and as. We can use while or as to talk about two longer events or activities happening at the same time. We can use either simple or continuous verb forms: We spent long evenings talking in my sitting-room while he played the music he had chosen and explained his ideas. We were lying on the beach sunbathing as they were playing volleyball. ' Feb 18, 2021 at 16:45

4 Answers 4


Your question asks about the following forms:

  1. You do this while I do that.
  2. You do this while I’m doing that.

It’s arguable that the continuous form can apply to the situation where “that” is currently being performed whereas the base form can’t carry that sense. But both sentences can also idiomatically convey the same sense - an apportionment of roles where both “this” and “that” are only contemplated (not being performed) when the sentence is spoke.

The core difference is that the base form references the tasks in their entirety whereas the continuous form references the period/duration that “that” is being performed. Despite this notional difference, the use of “while” makes the pragmatics of the two sentences identical when “that” is not being performed at the time of utterance.

  • thanks! Do you mean that You go and dry yourselves while I'm polishing the car. equals You go and dry yourselves while I polish the car. in this context? That is to say, the two expressions can be used interchangeably in this context?
    – fei
    Feb 17, 2021 at 16:00
  • In your example, I think the base form is idiomatic. With the picture, the continuous form conveys the same information since the speaker isn't yet polishing the car, but it sounds like he should be. I might come back to tweak this answer later.
    – Lawrence
    Feb 17, 2021 at 22:05

You go while I polish the car.

You dry yourselves while I'm polishing the car.

Does that help?

  • Thanks for your answer. But I still don't understand. Could you explain the grammar here?
    – fei
    Feb 17, 2021 at 15:19

It seems to me that in option 1 neither event has happened as yet. But in option 2 you could be in the process of actually polishing the car while instructing the others. Option 1 (imo) sounds way more natural but both 1 and 2 are OK. Also in option 2 both the polishing and the drying can be done at some other time in the future, i.e, the drying can be done once the polishing starts!


Both forms reference concurrent actions. That is person A is doing one thing at the same time as person B is doing something else. However "You do A while I do B" suggests that the two actions are to be started simultaneously and completed in a similar time frame. In fact the suggestion is that A should be completed either at the same time as or, preferably a little before B. An example would be

You do your homework while I cook dinner.

In that case the parent is suggesting that the child should be able to complete the homework in time to eat the meal

However the continuous form suggests a more open-ended relationship. For example

You listen to some music while I cook dinner

suggests that activity A can be performed for an indefinite period and stopped when activity B is completed.

Also the Lockdown situation can result in this statement

You can't do your homework while I'm having a meeting, we only have one computer

which states that the activity B cannot take place at the same time as activity A regardless of the durations of the tasks. In this case the form

You can't do your homework while I have a meeting, we only have one computer

is not appropriate because the restriction applies regardless of the lengths of activities. As soon as the parental Zoom session ends the child can start her homework but both activities require the same resource and so are mutually exclusive

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.