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Monday, April 13, 2009

"Since" vs. "While" : The Which Is Right Conundrum

"Since" vs. "While." "While" vs. "Since." Yes, they can be interchangeable but sometimes we say something we don't really mean when we play switcheroo. My grammar/syntax pal June Casagrande is outspoken about all things English (and funny). In her recent column, she lists a bunch of clauses that use "since" and then declares, "There's nothing technicaly wrong with this use of 'since,' but it still stinks!"

This attitude will be good news for people who love firm, fast rules. Very poor news to those of you I have convinced there is something to the idea of sometimes having a choice. Call it style choice. Or call it getting loose with our language. Whatever. There is often a choice.

Of course, I'm always the one that cautions you to use the strictest rule when you're writing a query letter or sending a work for submission. That is, if you want to get published.

But for other times. Well, here is the GUIDELINE. Don't use "while" when you mean "although." Do use "while" when you mean "at the same time." Don't use "since" when you mean "because." Use "since" when you are referring to passage of time.

Now you know. If you deviate from these rules, well, it may not be wrong. But you may get someone like June telling you "it stinks." Or worse, rejecting your lovely essay or your othersie impeccably edited novel.

Carolyn Howard-Johnson edits, consults and speaks on issues of publishing. Find her The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success at Learn more about her other authors' aids at, where writers will find lists and other helps on the Resources for Writers page. She blogs on all things publishing (not just editing!) at her Sharing with Writers blog.

1 comment:

Dawn Colclasure said...

Loved reading this, Carolyn! May I have your permission to reprint it in my writing book? I have a "word wars" chapter in the editing section, and this will fit nicely among the "who vs. whom" and "a vs. an" discussions.

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