When I was walking

Monica238

Senior Member
Russian
I am confused by this sentence. The exercise asks to use "when". But isn't it wrong to use "when" in such sentences instead of "while"?

"I was walking off the stage. I fell down the steps." (When)

I changed it into "When I was walking off the stage I fell down the steps" or "I fell down the steps when I was walking off the stage."

Oxford Discover Grammar by Tamzin Thompson.
 
  • Uncle Jack

    Senior Member
    British English
    But isn't it wrong to use "when" in such sentences instead of "while"?
    No, not at all. "While" is probably better than "when" if it begins the first clause and the first clause is the background action:
    While I was walking off the stage, I fell down the steps.​
    However, "while" cannot be used at all for a sudden action:
    I was walking off the stage while I fell down the steps. :cross:
    While I fell down the steps, I was walking off the stage. :cross:
    "When" is far more versatile, and all four versions are possible:
    When I was walking off the stage, I fell down the steps.​
    I was walking off the stage when I fell down the steps.​
    When I fell down the steps, I was walking off the stage.​
    I fell down the steps when I was walking off the stage.​
    The first of these perhaps isn't as good as using "while" or "as", but it is not wrong.
     

    SevenDays

    Senior Member
    Spanish
    I am confused by this sentence. The exercise asks to use "when". But isn't it wrong to use "when" in such sentences instead of "while"?

    "I was walking off the stage. I fell down the steps." (When)

    I changed it into "When I was walking off the stage I fell down the steps" or "I fell down the steps when I was walking off the stage."

    Oxford Discover Grammar by Tamzin Thompson.
    Look at it this way:

    when = a moment in time
    while = during a period of time

    and that's the basic difference; "while" conveys the idea of duration/extension through time.

    In your example, the progressive construction "was walking" already signals "duration/extension through time," so when and while become interchangeable. But they are not always interchangeable.

    Suppose you are conducting an experiment, and you tell your subjects:

    (a) eat ice cream when the bell rings
    (b) eat ice cream while the bell rings

    (a) means that you eat ice cream at that moment in time when the bell rings; (b) means that you eat ice cream during the time that the bell is ringing, however long that time is. The implication is that, with (b), you "stop" eating ice cream when the bell stops ringing.
     

    IlyaTretyakov

    Senior Member
    Russian
    when = a moment in time
    while = during a period of time
    As I know 'when' can also be used for two parallel actions, even long periods of time.
    • Leonardo finally finished The Last Supper in 1498. It was one of the greatest paintings of the Renaissance. When he painted The Last Supper, he worked in a different way from most painters, and he made the paint in a different way too.
    (At the same time)
    • When you do your homework, you can listen to some music. (at the same time)
    • When you've done your homework, you can watch TV. (first homework, then TV)
     

    Monica238

    Senior Member
    Russian
    No, not at all. "While" is probably better than "when" if it begins the first clause and the first clause is the background action:
    While I was walking off the stage, I fell down the steps.​
    However, "while" cannot be used at all for a sudden action:
    I was walking off the stage while I fell down the steps. :cross:
    While I fell down the steps, I was walking off the stage. :cross:
    "When" is far more versatile, and all four versions are possible:
    When I was walking off the stage, I fell down the steps.​
    I was walking off the stage when I fell down the steps.​
    When I fell down the steps, I was walking off the stage.​
    I fell down the steps when I was walking off the stage.​
    The first of these perhaps isn't as good as using "while" or "as", but it is not wrong.

    But is true that native speakers prefer "while" and "as" in such sentences as this one instead of "when" "When/as I was walking off the stage, I fell down the steps"?
     

    Uncle Jack

    Senior Member
    British English
    It depends on the context. Are you telling a story or filling in an insurance claim, for example? What is the previous sentence? "As" is ideal for continuing a narrative but it is no good for introducing a new subject; however, a narrative might not use the past continuous.
     

    Monica238

    Senior Member
    Russian
    It depends on the context. Are you telling a story or filling in an insurance claim, for example? What is the previous sentence? "As" is ideal for continuing a narrative but it is no good for introducing a new subject; however, a narrative might not use the past continuous.

    You said "As" is ideal for continuing a narrative but it is no good for introducing a new subject". Are the original sentences understood as introducing a new subject?
     

    Uncle Jack

    Senior Member
    British English
    You said "As" is ideal for continuing a narrative but it is no good for introducing a new subject". Are the original sentences understood as introducing a new subject?
    They aren't understood as anything. All you have is two clauses and "when", with no context.

    When you ask about a sentence in isolation and ask whether it is correct, we answer yes if there is a single likely context in which it fits, but having found one likely context, we don't go exercising our minds to think of other contexts in which the sentence fits. It is up to you to provide context, and I suggest you don't rely on our powers of imagination.

    In the real world, outside of language exercises and dictionary examples, there is always context, except possibly in the case of a few creative writers who like to provide dialogue without context to tease their readers (this sort of thing is not common, though). We use the context to understand the sentence. We do not use the sentence to work out the context, not usually at any rate.
     

    Monica238

    Senior Member
    Russian
    They aren't understood as anything. All you have is two clauses and "when", with no context.

    When you ask about a sentence in isolation and ask whether it is correct, we answer yes if there is a single likely context in which it fits, but having found one likely context, we don't go exercising our minds to think of other contexts in which the sentence fits. It is up to you to provide context, and I suggest you don't rely on our powers of imagination.

    In the real world, outside of language exercises and dictionary examples, there is always context, except possibly in the case of a few creative writers who like to provide dialogue without context to tease their readers (this sort of thing is not common, though). We use the context to understand the sentence. We do not use the sentence to work out the context, not usually at any rate.

    You are right. Most of the time the sentences from the textbooks give no context.
    You said:
    "The first of these perhaps isn't as good as using "while" or "as", but it is not wrong."
    That's from post 2. Which sentences were you referring to?
     

    Uncle Jack

    Senior Member
    British English
    "The first of these perhaps isn't as good as using "while" or "as", but it is not wrong."
    When I was walking off the stage, I fell down the steps.
    I was walking off the stage when I fell down the steps.
    When I fell down the steps, I was walking off the stage.
    I fell down the steps when I was walking off the stage.
    "The first of these" is "When I was walking off the stage, I fell down the steps."
     

    Monica238

    Senior Member
    Russian
    "The first of these" is "When I was walking off the stage, I fell down the steps."
    I see. Thanks. But it's not clear to me if "as" is as good as "while" in these sentences. Is it?

    While/as I was walking off the stage I fell down the steps.

    I fell down the steps while/as I was walking off the stage.
     

    Uncle Jack

    Senior Member
    British English
    But it's not clear to me if "as" is as good as "while" in these sentences. Is it?
    It is quite likely that one of "while", "as" or "when" is notably better than the other two options in a particular context, but unless you give us a context, we cannot say which is better. They are all possible. There are probably more situations where "as" or "while" is better than "when", but there are doubtless some situations where "as" or "while" are inappropriate.

    You may as well ask whether it is better to drive on the right or the left. Driving on the right is more common worldwide, but I suggest you don't try doing it in Britain or Japan.
     

    IlyaTretyakov

    Senior Member
    Russian
    It is quite likely that one of "while", "as" or "when" is notably better than the other two options in a particular context, but unless you give us a context, we cannot say which is better. They are all possible. There are probably more situations where "as" or "while" is better than "when", but there are doubtless some situations where "as" or "while" are inappropriate.
    That's a very precise and clear explanation.
    But it is sometimes a problem for us, Russians, to decide which is better 'as' or 'while'.

    • As/While(?) Mike was eating, the doorbell rang.
    • As/While(?) the day went on, the weather got worse.
    • As/While(?) I walked along the street, I looked in the shop windows.
    • Alex read a book as/while(?) Amy watched TV.
    🤔
     
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    Uncle Jack

    Senior Member
    British English
    These are still sentences in isolation. You need to tell us a lot more about the situation. Is this speech or writing? Who is the speaker or writer, and why are they saying or writing this (are they telling a story, perhaps)? What was said/written immediately before this?
     

    Monica238

    Senior Member
    Russian
    You take your pick. There is nothing in what you have told us so far that will tempt us to say "Example no.X is undoubtedly the best". Uncle Jack answered this in #2.

    Thus these are correct too. Right?

    As I was walking off the stage I fell down the steps.

    I fell down the steps as/while I was walking off the stage.
     

    Monica238

    Senior Member
    Russian
    These are still sentences in isolation. You need to tell us a lot more about the situation. Is this speech or writing? Who is the speaker or writer, and why are they saying or writing this (are they telling a story, perhaps)? What was said/written immediately before this?
    I hope Ilya doesn't mind me adding context for his sentences.
    The difference is not always clear. That's true. Would each sentence work with my additional context?

    1. "It was a quiet evening. The whole family was in the sitting room. My brother was watching TV and my sister was reading a book. Then suddenly as/While(?) Mike was eating, the doorbell rang."


    2. "It was a sunny day. I was on my way home. We were going to visit my friend that day, but As/While(?) the day went on, the weather got worse." I think only "as" works. But I may be wrong.

    3. As/While(?) I walked along the street, I looked in the shop windows. I spotted a beautiful dress and decided to ask about its price.
    As far as I know, "as" can be used with past simple to mean "while". But can "while" be used with past simple too?

    4. I left the children in the sitting room. Alex read a book as/while(?) Amy watched TV.

    Well, again can "while" be used with past simple?
     

    IlyaTretyakov

    Senior Member
    Russian
    Well, again can "while" be used with past simple?
    Of course, why not? I can't see any particular need for the continuous aspect (as if something had happened at that time).

    English Grammar in Use, unit 119, C:
    while + past simple.png


    I suppose those sentences should be:
    • As/While/When Mike was eating, the doorbell rang.
    • As the day went on, the weather got worse.
    • As I walked along the street, I looked in the shop windows.
    • Alex read a book while Amy watched TV.
     
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    Uncle Jack

    Senior Member
    British English
    (1) doesn't really make sense. You haven't mentioned Mike before (unless he is your brother), whereas you have said what two other people are doing but they aren't included in the "suddenly" clause. There is no progression of ideas; instead all we get is disjointed facts.

    (2) doesn't make sense either. There is no continuity in the time sequence. "It was a sunny day" is fine as a general introduction. "I was on my way home" describes a specific time. "We were going to visit my friend that day" refers to something that was going to happen later, but the future in the past tense does not change the time setting, which is still while you were on your way home. Now you try to say "as/while the day went on". In itself, this is fine, but this clause is linked to the future in the past clause, so the time setting is still "I was on my way home" but "as/while the day went on" does not appear to match. How long does it take you to get home?

    If (3) is the very beginning of a story, "as" is better. "As I" + past tense is a very common opening to a story, although the past continuous is far more common than the past simple. "While" and "when" work less well for beginning a story with an action having a duration ("When" is fine for states, though, and for actions without duration).

    (4) has no sequence of events, so using "as", or "when" makes no sense, and "while" will be understood as introducing a contrast, not a simultaneous action.

    Context in English requires more than just inventing a few sentences to put either side of the sentence you want to ask about. You need to imagine the entire situation, and then attempt to describe it in a more or less logical fashion. This may well mean that you find that the sentence you originally wanted to include does not actually fit. I have said repeatedly on this forum in the past and I will say again, beginning with a sentence is the wrong approach. Begin with a situation and try to find the words to fit the situation, not the other way round.
     

    IlyaTretyakov

    Senior Member
    Russian
    (4) has no sequence of events, so using "as", or "when" makes no sense, and "while" will be understood as introducing a contrast, not a simultaneous action.
    Even the picture for this sentence shows that they did it simulaneously (at the same time).
    while + the picture.png

    Context in English requires more than just inventing a few sentences to put either side of the sentence you want to ask about. You need to imagine the entire situation, and then attempt to describe it in a more or less logical fashion. This may well mean that you find that the sentence you originally wanted to include does not actually fit. I have said repeatedly on this forum in the past and I will say again, beginning with a sentence is the wrong approach. Begin with a situation and try to find the words to fit the situation, not the other way round.
    Please, take into consideration that grammar books hardly ever provide that very context.
     

    Uncle Jack

    Senior Member
    British English
    Even the picture for this sentence shows that they did it simulaneously (at the same time).
    Yes, but where there is no context, we imagine the situation includes a need to say that the two actions were simultaneous. Many of the sentences you ask about only work in a particular context. In the case of (4), the "as"/"while" sentence describes a period of time that needs to be introduced by the preceding sentence, and almost certainly follows something previously mentioned. Instead of introducing the time period, the previous sentence describes an instantaneous action, and the "as"/"while" sentence doesn't describe something that followed your leaving the room, for we imagine that Alex was reading a book and Amy was watching TV before you left the room.

    Please, take into consideration that grammar books hardly ever provide that very context.
    I suggest you don't try to learn English from grammar books. At the level you appear to be at, you would do a lot better reading ordinary English texts and listening to ordinary spoken English, and only consulting a grammar book when you encounter something that you don't understand.
     

    IlyaTretyakov

    Senior Member
    Russian
    (4) has no sequence of events, so using "as", or "when" makes no sense, and "while" will be understood as introducing a contrast, not a simultaneous action.
    Yes, but where there is no context, we imagine the situation includes a need to say that the two actions were simultaneous. Many of the sentences you ask about only work in a particular context. In the case of (4), the "as"/"while" sentence describes a period of time that needs to be introduced by the preceding sentence, and almost certainly follows something previously mentioned. Instead of introducing the time period, the previous sentence describes an instantaneous action, and the "as"/"while" sentence doesn't describe something that followed your leaving the room, for we imagine that Alex was reading a book and Amy was watching TV before you left the room.
    Oh, you were talking about what Monica wrote:
    4. I left the children in the sitting room. Alex read a book as/while(?) Amy watched TV.
    Sorry, I didn't get it at first, I thought you were talking about that only sentence(Alex read a book while Amy watched TV) in isolation.

    Yes, of course, if we want to describe what was happening when "I left the children in the sitting room" we would need the past continuous.
     

    Monica238

    Senior Member
    Russian
    Yes, but where there is no context, we imagine the situation includes a need to say that the two actions were simultaneous. Many of the sentences you ask about only work in a particular context. In the case of (4), the "as"/"while" sentence describes a period of time that needs to be introduced by the preceding sentence, and almost certainly follows something previously mentioned. Instead of introducing the time period, the previous sentence describes an instantaneous action, and the "as"/"while" sentence doesn't describe something that followed your leaving the room, for we imagine that Alex was reading a book and Amy was watching TV before you left the room.


    I suggest you don't try to learn English from grammar books. At the level you appear to be at, you would do a lot better reading ordinary English texts and listening to ordinary spoken English, and only consulting a grammar book when you encounter something that you don't understand.

    Do you mean in the sentence "Alex read a book while Amy watched TV" from post 25 past simple works with
    "While" because they are simultaneous actions but if they were not simultaneous actions, using past simple with "while" would be wrong?
     

    Uncle Jack

    Senior Member
    British English
    Do you mean in the sentence "Alex read a book while Amy watched TV" from post 25 past simple works with
    "While" because they are simultaneous actions but if they were not simultaneous actions, using past simple with "while" would be wrong?
    As a sentence in isolation, it isn't clear whether "while" indicates simultaneous actions or a contrast between the two actions (the picture could apply to either meaning). When "while" indicates a contrast, the two actions need not be simultaneous.
     

    Monica238

    Senior Member
    Russian
    As a sentence in isolation, it isn't clear whether "while" indicates simultaneous actions or a contrast between the two actions (the picture could apply to either meaning). When "while" indicates a contrast, the two actions need not be simultaneous.

    My question is when they are simultaneous actions can I use "while" with either past simple or past continuous?
    If know that they are simultaneous actions I say:

    A. Alex read a book while Amy watched TV.

    B. Alex was reading a book while Amy was watching TV.

    Right?
     

    Uncle Jack

    Senior Member
    British English
    My question is when they are simultaneous actions can I use "while" with either past simple or past continuous?
    In principle, yes. However, your choice of simple or continuous may affect how people interpret the sentence.

    A. Alex read a book while Amy watched TV.

    B. Alex was reading a book while Amy was watching TV.
    B can only be a simultaneous action, that I can think of.
    A need not be a simultaneous action. The context will determine how people interpret it.

    I really don't see how this helps you learn English. Begin with context, then when you have a well thought out situation, try describing it and see what verb forms fit. If you are unsure, post a thread on this forum.
     

    Monica238

    Senior Member
    Russian
    In principle, yes. However, your choice of simple or continuous may affect how people interpret the sentence.


    B can only be a simultaneous action, that I can think of.
    A need not be a simultaneous action. The context will determine how people interpret it.

    I really don't see how this helps you learn English. Begin with context, then when you have a well thought out situation, try describing it and see what verb forms fit. If you are unsure, post a thread on this forum.

    Believe me it does help. :)
    Sorry, but what do you mean by "contast"?

    "As a sentence in isolation, it isn't clear whether "while" indicates simultaneous actions or a contrast between the two actions (the picture could apply to either meaning). When "while" indicates a contrast, the two actions need not be simultaneous."
     

    Monica238

    Senior Member
    Russian
    "While" has more than one meaning. As well as "during the time that", it can also mean "even though". See while - WordReference.com Dictionary of English

    Yes, I know that. But what did you mean by "contrast"? I am afraid I am not aware of that use.

    "As a sentence in isolation, it isn't clear whether "while" indicates simultaneous actions or a contrast between the two actions (the picture could apply to either meaning). When "while" indicates a contrast, the two actions need not be simultaneous."
     

    RM1(SS)

    Senior Member
    English - US (Midwest)
    I suggest you don't try to learn English from grammar books. At the level you appear to be at, you would do a lot better reading ordinary English texts and listening to ordinary spoken English, and only consulting a grammar book when you encounter something that you don't understand.
    :thumbsup: :thumbsup:
     

    Monica238

    Senior Member
    Russian
    That is what the "even though" meaning of "while" does; it contrasts two clauses, and overlaps in meaning with "but".

    You answered my question and said when they are simultaneous actions "while" can be used with either "past simple or continuous:

    "My question is when they are simultaneous actions can I use "while" with either past simple or past continuous?"

    "In principle, yes. However, your choice of simple or continuous may affect how people interpret the sentence."

    But when expressing contrast can I use "while" with either past simple or past continuous too?

    You mentioned contrast here: "When "while" indicates a contrast, the two actions need not be simultaneous."
     

    Uncle Jack

    Senior Member
    British English
    But when expressing contrast can I use "while" with either past simple or past continuous too?

    You mentioned contrast here: "When "while" indicates a contrast, the two actions need not be simultaneous."
    "While" used to indicate contrast is mostly used with simple verb forms, but this is not a rule. What it does mean though is that when you use a continuous verb form and there is no context, we usually interpret "while" as meaning a simultaneous action. With simple verb forms, we cannot be sure which meaning is meant.

    But this whole discussion is futile. In this forum, we poor native speakers are presented with a succession of sentences without any context, and we are asked to explain their meaning, the usage of certain words, or what other forms are possible. To do this, we need to imagine the context, which is sometimes straightforward (it appears - although we sometimes get this wrong when the original poster replies saying, "no, that is not what I meant"), but at other times it is not. However THIS DOES NOT HAPPEN IN REAL LIFE. If I read or hear a sentence being said, there is always context, This immediately limits the possible meanings, and in the overwhelming majority of cases the context limits the possible meanings to just one. I don't think that I have ever in my life encountered "while" in a sentence and not immediately known whether it introduced a simultaneous action or a contrasting action, except in this forum.
     

    Monica238

    Senior Member
    Russian
    "While" used to indicate contrast is mostly used with simple verb forms, but this is not a rule. What it does mean though is that when you use a continuous verb form and there is no context, we usually interpret "while" as meaning a simultaneous action. With simple verb forms, we cannot be sure which meaning is meant.

    But this whole discussion is futile. In this forum, we poor native speakers are presented with a succession of sentences without any context, and we are asked to explain their meaning, the usage of certain words, or what other forms are possible. To do this, we need to imagine the context, which is sometimes straightforward (it appears - although we sometimes get this wrong when the original poster replies saying, "no, that is not what I meant"), but at other times it is not. However THIS DOES NOT HAPPEN IN REAL LIFE. If I read or hear a sentence being said, there is always context, This immediately limits the possible meanings, and in the overwhelming majority of cases the context limits the possible meanings to just one. I don't think that I have ever in my life encountered "while" in a sentence and not immediately known whether it introduced a simultaneous action or a contrasting action, except in this forum.

    If I use "as" or "when" instead of "while" would both sentences be correct and do "as" and "when" work with past simple and past continuous too?
    A. Alex read a book as/when Amy watched TV.

    B. Alex was reading a book as/when Amy was watching TV.
     

    Uncle Jack

    Senior Member
    British English
    You can use simple or continuous verb forms with "when", "as" or "while". However, they are not interchangeable, and it is likely that only one wording will fit your particular situation.
     
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