Confusing words: during, for, while

Confusing during, for and while is a common learner error. Let’s look at the difference and then do a quick exercise.

During

During is a preposition. We use it to talk about a period of time.

During is followed by a noun:

during the night
during our holiday
during their marriage
during the concert.

Some examples:

  • I woke up three times during the night.
  • There was a massive thunderstorm during the concert. NOT while the concert
  • I met a lot of interesting people during my time in New York.

For

We use for to say how long something happened, has been happening, or will be happening.

For is a preposition.

  • He was at work for ten hours yesterday. NOT during yesterday
  • I’ve lived here for five years. NOT during five years
  • I’m going to watch TV for an hour. NOT during an hour

While

While is a conjunction and means ‘when’ or ‘at the same time’. We use while with a verb structure:

while I was living
while I lived
while living NOT during living
while I was.

Some examples:

  • The doorbell rang while we were having dinner. NOT during we were having dinner
  • You shouldn’t use a mobile phone while driving a car. NOT during driving a car
  • I met a lot of interesting people while I was in New York.

Here’s a quick exercise for you to test yourself on during, for and while.

questions go herescoregoes here

See more: Confusing Words

Stuart is an English teacher and runs the Speakspeak website. He currently lives in Prague and has been teaching for over 20 years. Follow Stuart and contact him by subscribing to his monthly newsletter.

6 Comments

  1. Ankit shah - March 31, 2012, 7:53 am Reply

    It is very helpful exercise. Thank you very much. Please give such explanation for some other words in future. Thanks again.

    • Stuart Cook - March 31, 2012, 2:03 pm Reply

      Glad you found it helpful, Ankit. Yes, there will be more explanations of ‘confusing words’ in future posts.

  2. khalid - June 1, 2012, 5:27 am Reply

    Thank you, it was really useful for me

  3. youssef - August 21, 2013, 1:44 pm Reply

    thank you so much i appreciate your course it is interesting

  4. min jung park - March 3, 2015, 7:39 am Reply

    i’m confusing between during and for.
    is it ok i know that for is used to express specific time like for two days, for decades, for three years ?
    and during is used more general time than for.
    thank you for your sincerity and answer in advance.

    • Stuart Cook - March 3, 2015, 4:36 pm Reply

      Hello, Min

      Use during with nouns such as holidays and week. It means ‘at some time between the beginning and end’: during the holidays, during summer, etc.

      For, as you correctly said, is used with time periods and lengths of time; it tells us how long: for two days, for a long time, for four years, etc.

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