How to Use Whereas, While and Whilst

Alex Case
Using where, while and whilst tips, including similarities and differences between them, and contrasts to similar linking words

“Whereas”, “while” and “whilst” are very useful words to avoid repeating “but” and “However”, but they are difficult to use correctly. This article explains each one, contrasts them with each other, and explains how they compare with similar linkers like “although” and “but”.

How to use “whereas”

“Whereas” is most commonly used in the middle of a sentence to link together two contrasting ideas, as in “I work late every day, whereas my husband always finishes at five”. This makes it similar to and replaceable by “but”. However, sentences with “but” like “I have three computers but I have no TV” cannot take “whereas”. This is because “whereas” always compares two different things, usually meaning that you have to have a different subject in each clause, as in “I have three computers but no TV, whereas my brother has three TVs and no computer”.

You may also see “whereas” at the beginning of sentences, but “while” is more common, simpler to use, and uncontroversial in this position.

How to use “while”

As mentioned above, “while” can be used to start contrasting sentences like “While I have lots of free time, I never feel bored” and “While I’m a morning person, my wife prefers staying up late”. The former means “Although I have lots of free time, I never feel bored”. The latter can be rephrased as “I’m a morning person, whereas my wife prefers to stay up late”. “While” is also possible instead of “whereas” in that middle position (“I’m a morning person, while my wife prefers to stay up late”). This means that “whereas” can usually be replaced with “while”, but some examples of “while” cannot be replaced with “whereas”.

“While” also has a time meaning that is similar to “meanwhile”, “when” or “during”, as in “While I was having breakfast, he was already having lunch”. Sometimes which meaning of “while” is meant is not clear. For example, “While I had breakfast, he had lunch” could mean at the same time or be a contrast between us.  It is therefore sometimes better to rewrite contrasts with “whereas” (“I had breakfast, whereas he had lunch”) to avoid confusion.

How to use “whilst”

“Whilst” has all of the meanings, positions and uses of “while” above: at the beginning and in the middle of a sentence, and both to express the same time and to show concession. Although “whilst” is formal/ old-fashioned and rare, it is the easiest way to replace “while” if you want to avoid repeating words.

“While” vs “although”

“Although” goes in the same positions as “while” and is also used to contrast two halves of a sentence, but “although” is only used to link two logically connected ideas. For example, “although” could replace “while” in “While my parents are both short, I think I might get tall enough to be in the basketball team” (because their DNA could affect my height, so the two things could be linked) but not in “While some people like Marmite, others hate it” (because there is no link between different random people’s tastes).

“While” vs “on the other hand”

“While” before two clauses can often be used in the same way to how “On the other hand” is used between two sentences. For example, “While this hotel is bigger, this one has friendlier service” could mean “This hotel is bigger. On the other hand, this hotel has better service” and so be used to weigh up two sides of an argument.

“Whereas” vs “but”

“But” is a very general contrasting linker that can be used to link two clauses in exactly the same way that “However” is used to link two sentences, with virtually any kind of difference between the two parts being okay. “Whereas” is often the next best choice after “but” and “However” to avoid repeating those words, as long as you remember that “whereas” needs to be comparing two different things, not two aspects of one thing.

“While” vs “in contrast”

“While” is often used like “in contrast” to link big differences, as in “When I was a child we coped fine with no internet, while young people nowadays can hardly survive without it” to mean “When I was a child we coped fine with no internet. In contrast, young people today can hardly survive without it”. However, “while” is okay with smaller contrasts for which “In contrast” would make no sense like “While you have four slices, the rest of us only have three”. As in that example, “while” also links two clauses in two sentence where “in contrast” links two sentences. Its position is also more flexible.

Written by Alex Case for
Alex Case is the author of TEFLtastic and the Teaching...: Interactive Classroom Activities series of business and exam skills e-books for teachers


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