Writing Tips

Writing Tip: Overloading While

Have you visited Daily Writing Tips online? I love it. It’s a great place to find information on grammar, style and other punctuation issues that writers may have questions about.

~Today I received an email from DWT’s discussing the over-usage of the word while. I’ll be the first to admit I use that word a lot. It’s one of my favorite go-to words, which isn’t always a good thing. Here’s what Daily Writing Tips had to say about the word while. ~

Because English is blessed with so many subordinating conjunctions, there’s no need to overuse any of them. The conjunction while, for example, tends to pop up in contexts in which a different conjunction may be the better choice.

The first and most obvious use of while is as a temporal conjunction to introduce a clause that has something to do with time:

While I was sleeping, the cat ate the canary. (Here while means “during the time that.”)

While is used to introduce clauses that express opposition:

While she was quite attractive, she believed that she was ugly. (Here while means “despite the fact that.”)

While is also used to introduce a clause that provides a contrast:

Mary dressed in princess clothing, while her brother dressed in cowboy costume.

It is this use of while that leads to ambiguity.

Does the while clause express contrast, or does it express time?

The sentence could be interpreted to mean that Mary dressed as a princess during the time that her brother dressed as a cowboy. If contrast is intended, the conjunction whereas would make the meaning clearer.

Sometimes while is used as if it were a coordinating conjunction like and, as in this description of a motorcycle:

New, soft palm grips provide nice comfort, while broad mirrors are neatly placed for clear rear vision.

Here are some “adversative” conjunctions that you may wish to substitute for while when appropriate:

even though

Here are some additional temporal conjunctions to use when while is not quite what you want:

as soon as
as long as
by the time

~There you have it. While, while is a great word to use as a crutch word, there are more words we can use to switch things up every once in a while. 🙂

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