Submitted by jon  •  April 6, 2006

“while” adverb or conjunction?

This question has caused a lot of argument on another message board. In the sentence below, is “while” an adverb? I’d like to see what the people here think.

“Begin grooming your kitten while it is still young.”

Incidentally, I vote that it’s a conjunction.

Comments Sort by:   Oldest first  •  Latest first  •  Rating

@EnglishTeacherTimothy - nearly full marks, except for the slip of the finger in the penultimate paragraph (second sentence), and is 'not' really a conjunction? Methinks not! Do people still talk about adjective clauses rather than relative clauses? But other than that, pretty comprehensive. Who do you teach? Native speakers or foreigners? You don't say in your profile. I'm sorry, this was your maiden speech; I should have left it uncommented.

0 vote Vote!  •  URL to this comment  •  Report Abuse

The key is not to confuse part of speech with function (I just gave a lecture on this toady). The "word" is a conjunction. There are three basic types of conjunctions: coordinating (and, but, for, not, etc...), suboordinating (after, although, as, because, before, how, if, once, since, than, that, though, until, when, where, whether, and while), and correlative (both...and, either...or, neither...nor, not only...but also, so...as, and whether...or).

Coordinating conjunctions are used to join individual words, phrases, and independent clauses. For example, I didn't wake up on time SO i was late.

A subordinating conjunction introduces a dependent clause and indicates the nature of the relationship among the independent clause(s) and the dependent clause(s). For example, “Begin grooming your kitten while it is still young.”

Correlative conjunctions always appear in pairs -- you use them to link equivalent sentence elements. For example, "I am neither happy nor saddened by the news about the change in the school calendar."

"While" is a conjunction. Specifically, it is a coordinating conjunction that joins the independent clause "Begin grooming your kitten" and "it is still young." By adding "while," it forms a dependent or suboordinating clause.

It is true that the function of the clause is adverbial, but that doesn't change the part of speech of the word. There are three types of dependent or suboordinate clauses: 1) noun, 2) adjective, and 3) adverb. Since the whole clause performs the function of an adverb (indicating a time that a predicate should be performed), the whole "clause" is adverbial; however, the word "while" is still a conjunction within that clause.

I hope this helps!

4 votes Vote!  •  URL to this comment  •  Report Abuse

While is also a noun. For example, in the sentence I just done wrote.

2 votes Vote!  •  URL to this comment  •  Report Abuse

useful info, thanks

1 vote Vote!  •  URL to this comment  •  Report Abuse

WHILE is a true subordinating conjunction likeTHAT,LEST,BEFORE and AFTER.Other subordinating conjunctions, as a matter of fact, are adverbs performing additional function of conjunctions.

1 vote Vote!  •  URL to this comment  •  Report Abuse

Avrom has a point, the precise point I was trying to resolve. And it appears that Avrom is right. See this link http://www.dailygrammar.com/266to270.shtml

1 vote Vote!  •  URL to this comment  •  Report Abuse

The term used in linguistics for such words is 'complementizer'. 'That' is probably one of the most common, as in 'The man that I saw yesterday was reading the paper.'

1 vote Vote!  •  URL to this comment  •  Report Abuse

What about sentences like

"Never use electrical appliances while bathing"?

Is there an elided "you are" here? Or is something else going on?

3 votes Vote!  •  URL to this comment  •  Report Abuse

In the sentence, "while" is DEFINITELY a conjunction, more specifically, a subordinating conjunction. There are two clauses that are complete: "Begin grooming your kitten" and "it is still young". WHILE connects these two ideas. I do agree that "while it is still young" is arguably an adverbial clause, but as someone already mentioned, adverbial clauses begin with subordinating conjunctions. Aside from that....the word ITSELF (while) is a conjunction.

4 votes Vote!  •  URL to this comment  •  Report Abuse

It is definitely not a preposition because a preposition can only contain a noun phrase after it. While in those cases used above are all subordinators. Subordinating clauses are set off by a subordinator, and have both a subject and a predicate (implying a verb). This is what distinguishes a prepositional phrase from a subordinating clause: the existance of a verb.

It is decidely not an adverb, because all connective adverbs can be set off with a ';' before the connective adverb and a ',' after it. Like this: I was eating; therefore, you shouldn't have bothered me. Though, you are right in pointing out that the entire phrase acts as an adverb.

1 vote Vote!  •  URL to this comment  •  Report Abuse

"While" is neither a preposition nor an adverb. The words that begin a adverbial clauses are called subordinating conjunctions.

8 votes Vote!  •  URL to this comment  •  Report Abuse

Most English adverbs are formed by adding the inflectional suffix "-ly" to the end of an adjective (as in German "-lich," Dutch "-lijk," Old English "-lic," "-lig"). Does this mean that this inflectional suffix is itself an adverb? No. Inflectional suffixes by definition cannot exist independently of a stem (and if they could they wouldn't carry any meaning).
Jon, you correctly point out that "while it is still young" is an adverbial clause. However, I don't think that this makes "while" an adverb. I contend that "while" is in fact a preposition, as it situates the verb. We normal think of prepositions as function words that situate verbs spatially (in, out, around, etc). In this case, the verb modified by "while it is still young" (which is actually the participle "grooming," and not the auxiliary "begin") gets situation temporally rather than spatially by the preposition "while" (i.e., grooming must take place at the point or duration of time which is also the point or duration of time during which the kitten is still young). This works just as if the sentence read "begin grooming your kitten on the fridge," or "begin grooming your kitten before Wednesday." If I had more time I could probably demonstrate this with Russell's Theory of Descriptions.

1 vote Vote!  •  URL to this comment  •  Report Abuse

Here are some arguments that it is an adverb. I'm curious if anyone thinks these hold any water.

----------
The sentence contains an adverbial clause; the "while it is still young" being a dependent clause technically modifying the verb "begin" in the independent clause.
----------
"While it is still young" is an adverbial clause because it modifies the action of the whole complex sentence.
----------
...the FUNCTION of while in this sentence is as an adverb of time to tell us when to begin conditioning your pet to accept grooming.

5 votes Vote!  •  URL to this comment  •  Report Abuse

"While" can never be an adverb! A quick check of the dictionary would show that.

4 votes Vote!  •  URL to this comment  •  Report Abuse

Your Comment