Use “For” when:
You are talking about a duration of time that is non-specific. For example:
“I lived there for five years.” In this sentence, the speaker does not specify which five years he or she is talking about. Is it from 2001 – 2006? Is it five years during his or her teens? Was it a five year period ten years ago?
Consider this other sentence: “The meeting lasted for six minutes.”
Again, the speaker does not give a specific time frame, only a duration. The listener does not know specifically when those six minutes began and ended.
You use “since” when you:
Want to specify the time frame that something started or began. That thing is likely still continuing in the present time. Note that “since” is often used with the present perfect and present continuous tenses. Remember that in English, the present perfect tense/present perfect continuous is used to talk about something that started in the past but has a connection to the present. However, also note that since can be used in other contexts/tenses as well. Since can be either a conjunction, adverb or preposition in English. As Tiphaine Borredon would say, “it’s complication!”
Read the examples below. Note that in each example, the action began at a time in the past but it is understood that the action continues to the moment the speaker is speaking:
- Since when have you been jogging at midnight? (adverb)
- I have been jogging at midnight since last year. (preposition)
- I have despised broccoli since I was a child. (preposition)
- Since you have refused to remove your car from the parking spot for disabled people, I have no choice but to call the police. (conjunction)
- I have taken French lessons since the age of eighteen. (preposition)
You use “during” when you:
Are referring to a specific period of time that has a specific beginning point and a specific ending point. During is a preposition and is usually followed by a noun or a noun clause in English.
So for example:
“I will go sightseeing during my vacation.” In this sentence the speaker (and probably the listener) knows exactly when the vacation will begin and end.
HERE ARE SOME OTHER EXAMPLES OF “DURING”:
- “I cry during sad movies.”
- “I learned to cheat on tests during college.”
- During the summer, I often go to Bretagne to visit my grandmother.
- Are you free during lunch?
- I have observed that during fire drills Peter goes into an asthma attack.
- Come on, let’s go! You can eat during the car ride.
- You will have a chance to see the Great Wall during the tour tomorrow.
You use “while” when you:
Talk about two actions that occur during the same span of time. The two actions may be unrelated but they occur or will occur in the same time frame. This use of while is as a conjunction. But “while” has many uses in English. It can be a conjunction, adverb, noun, verb or even sometimes a preposition! (Tiphaine! Complication!)
CHECK OUT THESE EXAMPLES:
- While you take a nap, I will cook dinner. (conjunction)
- You can go for a walk while she is being interviewed. (conjunction)
- Did you pass out while all of this was going on? (conjunction)
- While John is prone to outbursts, Jason his twin brother is very calm. (conjunction)
- My college years were a time for me to while away my youth (verb)
- The hour while you wait for the doctor to update you is the hardest part of this medical procedure (adverb)
- We can sit here for a while. (noun)
Note that “while” and “during” can often be used in the same sense but the structure of your sentence would change. For example:
- While you take a nap, I will cook dinner.
- During your nap, I will cook dinner.
- You can go for a walk while she is being interviewed
- You can go for a walk during her interview.
- Did you pass out while all of this was going on?
- Did you pass out during all of this?
NOW TAKE THE QUIZ!
Read more on Since, While, For and During here.