When should we use “while” and “although”?

This week we discuss the conjunctions “although” and “while.”  Usually, “although” is used to show a contrast, and transforms the clause into a subordinate clause (one that depends on the following clause to make a complete sentence), e.g.,

  • Although the mayor argues that the city can prohibit political speech on the sidewalk, the First Amendment says otherwise.
  • Although the fried liver was covered in tasty catsup and onions, Stephen refused to eat it.
  • Although the appellant made strong arguments, the court of appeals affirmed the trial court.

The conjunction “while” is usually used in a temporal sense, e.g., 

  • While I was in Paris, I drank my first bottle of Chateau Margaux.
  • While the cat’s away, the mice will play.

If we go back to the examples for “although” and substitute “while,” you can see that the substitution creates ambiguity:

  • While the mayor argues that the city can prohibit political speech on the sidewalk, the First Amendment says otherwise.  [Of the three examples, this is the least confusing, since the First Amendment cannot, literally, “say” anything.]
  • While the fried liver was covered in tasty catsup and onions, Stephen refused to eat it.  [In this example, Stephen seems to be refusing to eat fried liver as it is being covered in tasty catsup and onions.]
  • While the appellant made strong arguments, the court of appeals affirmed the trial court.  [Wow, how rude.  The court of appeals seems to be interrupting the appellant’s strong arguments in order to affirm the trial court.]

Bottom line, it’s best to stick to using “while” in the temporal sense, and not as a way to show contrast.  For contrast, use “although.”

That is all for now …

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