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. See all posts by Stuart

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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