While Means Whereas . . . Sometimes

We usually think of  while  to mean “during the time that,” but it can be used to mean “whereas.”

In the former case, while is not preceded by a comma.

In the latter case, while must be preceded by a comma.

Example: I can’t talk on the phone while my little sister is screaming.
Example: The Pacific Ocean is often calm, while the Atlantic Ocean is rough.

Some purists and copyeditors tend to frown on the use of while to mean whereas because the meaning depends upon the comma, and points of punctuation have a habit of not being where they should be.

If you choose to use while to mean whereas, it’s important to be clear about your meaning.

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  1. Thank you. I don’t get the use of “whereas” sometimes. If it means “while on the contrary,” why would it appear at the beginning of a sentence? That use doesn’t seem to make sense to me. I wish someone could explain it.

    1. Well, just like it’s okay now to start a sentence with “but” and other prepositions, it’s also fine to start with “Whereas.” Since it means although, essentially, you would use it in place of although in starting a sentence. “I never eat asparagus. Whereas I might eat it if dipped it chocolate.” It’s not used all that often as it does sound a bit stilted.

      Very common in legal docs, such as this bit from a resolution by the Constitution Party National Committee:

      Whereas, we hold these Truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness— That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed.

      Whereas, we the people in order to secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity do take our responsibilities towards securing and maintaining liberty literally.

      Whereas, brave men, living and dead, have struggled and consecrated with their lives this gift of liberty as vouched safe by the Constitution.

      Whereas, it is for us, the living, to be dedicated to the unfinished work, to the great task remaining before us.

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