While and whilstGrammar > Words, sentences and clauses > Conjunctions and linking words > While and whilst
While or whilst?
While and whilst mean the same when we use them as conjunctions. They both mean ‘during the time that something else happens’, or ‘in contrast with something else’. While is much more common than whilst, and whilst sounds more formal:
Would you like something to eat while we’re waiting? (less common: … whilst we’re waiting?) (during the time we’re waiting)
British English prefers an ‘s’ for words like realise, organise and industrialise, while American English prefers ‘z’ (realize, organize, industrialize). (less common: … whilst American English prefers ‘z’ …) (expressing a contrast between British and American English)
While or when?
While (or whilst) means ‘during the time when something else happens’. When can mean the same as while, but when can also refer to a point in time.Compare
during the time something happens
a point in time
The phone rang while/when we were having dinner.
When the phone rang, she answered it immediately.
Not: While the phone rang …
While as a noun
A while means ‘an unspecified period of time’:
We spent a while looking at the boats in the harbour before going for lunch.
I haven’t seen Andrew for a while. I wonder if he’s okay.
It’s a long while since anyone lived in that house – maybe ten years. It’s a ruin now.
While does not mean the same as when:
Always keep some change with you. It’s useful when buying a bus ticket.
Not: … while buying a bus ticket.
When I came home, I made some dinner then watched TV.
Not: While I came home …
- 01 Relative pronouns
- 02 Prefer
- 03 Since
- 04 Different from, different to or different than?
- 05 First, firstly or at first?