/ Aron Thode

How to Use ‘During’ Correctly

ESL Students may use during when they should use while or for.
Consider the following errors and corrections:

He did his homework during eating.He did his homework while (he was) eating.

I was in the military during two years.I was in the military for two years.

I hear these types of mistakes often, but we can actually draw clear lines around the use of during to help students use it correctly.

More About During, the Preposition

During tells us when. It is used to say something happens within a period of time. That period of time can be represented by an event, activity, or experience.

Like all prepositions, during is used with a noun (or noun phrase - NP). However, unlike many prepositions, it isn’t used with a gerund.

A man in sportswear diving to catch a frisbee on a beach. In the background we can see people relaxing by the ocean.

A man diving to catch a frisbee on a beach. (source)

We played frisbee during the company picnic. (NP - sounds natural)

During August, our sales were really high. (NP - sounds natural)

They talked a lot during walking. (gerund - sounds awkward)

In the third example, change during to while, and you have a good sentence. In this case, the -ing form is what’s left after reducing the clause.

They talked a lot while walking.

..is a reduced version of

They talked a lot while they were walking.


While can be a hard word to pin down. In English, it is often used as a noun, occasionally as a verb, and in some British dialects as a preposition (to mean until).

I’ve been thinking about this for a while. (noun)

I’m just sitting here, whiling away the hours. (verb)

One of the primary uses of while is as a conjunction to connect clauses. It has various meanings in this role, but one of them is ‘during the time that’. Accordingly, we can create sentences that are similar using either during or while. However, we must keep in mind that they have different grammatical functions.

He talked during the movie.

He talked while the movie was playing.

During his jog, he thought about the mistakes he had made.

While jogging, he thought about the mistakes he had made.

Because the two words have a similar meaning, at least with this meaning of while, it’s best that students focus on their different grammatical roles to determine which to use.

Use during with noun phrases and while with clauses (or reduced clauses).

Practice using these words correctly in discussion with our During and While Conversation Questions.


For tells us how long.

To avoid confusing during and for, students should mentally link during to when and for to how long.

When will you study for the TOEIC exam? I’ll study during the summer vacation.

How long will you be in Argentina? I’ll be there for two months.

Note: For is also used to introduce purposes and causes.

By focusing on these clear guidelines, students will be able to use during correctly.

Download an easily printable PDF version of the image below.

A rectangle and two squares that contain ways of differentiating how during, while, and for are used.