Expressing Simultaneous Actions in French : Pendant que, Alors que, Tandis que

tandis que pendant que lorsque alors que express simultaneous actions

If you want to express two actions happening simultaneously, you need subordination and conjugation conjunctions.

It sounds complex, but trust me, it’s a no-brainer.

Alors que, pendant que, lorsque, and tandis que are all conjunctions you can use to express simultaneity in French.

How to Express Simultaneous Actions in French?

There are a number of ways to express simultaneous actions. In most cases, we use pendant que, alors que, tandis que,  which can be used almost interchangeably.

Pendant que nous étions à la plage, elle nous a preparé le pizza.

While we were at the beach, she made us a pizza.

Je fais la vaisselle alors qu’elle fait la cuisine.

I do the dishes while she cooks.

Cette compensation est maintenant annulée tandis que d’autres avantages sont maintenus.

This concession is now cancelled whilst the other benefits are maintained.

Another way is using the expression en même temps. 

Les étudiants parlaient tous en même temps.

The students were speaking all at once.

Alors que

Alors que means at the time that. Some possible translations to English are – as, while, when, and whereas.

Alors qu’il travaillait, il écoutait de la musique.

While working, he listened to music.

The imparfait is usually used in conjunction with it to indicate a continuing action or occurrence.

Sometimes, alors que it can be used to mean ‘then’ or ‘in that case”.

Si tu sais cuisiner, alors tu peux faire le diner.

If you can cook, then you can make dinner.

Also, it means ‘so’, ‘well’ and in informal conversation, so then.

Alors que is expressing simultaneity, yet is also adding a nuance of opposition.

« Je porte une masque pendant que je fais des courses. »

I am wearing a mask while I go shopping.

« Je ne porte pas de masque alors que je fais des courses ».

I am not wearing a masque despite shopping.

Je cours alors qu’il pleut.

I run while it is raining.

It’s a nuance if you confuse the two it doesn’t matter, it hardly changes the meaning of the sentence.

Note there is a difference between alors and alors que. Watch this video to see how to avoid this frequent mistake.

Pendant que

Pendant que is used to express two actions that are done simultaneously. It translates as ” while, as, whilst”

Je travaille pendant que ma sœur dort.

l work while my sister sleeps.

Alors que adds a little more surprise and subjective view when pendant que sounds more flat and descriptive.

Tandis que

Tandis que means “while” or “as”; something is happening at the same time as something else.

Je cuisine tandis qu’elle nettoie.

I cook while she cleans.

Many French learners believe that tandis que requires the usage of the subjunctive. However, that’s not right.

In French, the subjunctive usually refers to ambiguous statements. As shown in this example, there is no question that I am cooking or that she is cleaning, and that both actions occur simultaneously.

 Tandis que and alors que are also used to show the opposition.

Tandis que/ Alors que / Pendant Que

The term pendant que describes parallel actions, whereas alors que and tandis que describe actions that are in contrast.

Je travaille dur tandis que/ alors que toi, tu ne fais pas grand-chose.

I work hard whilst you don’t do very much.

Two expressions alors que and tandis que are both possible in this case.

The alternative is to use pendant que, although it isn’t as elegant as using alors que or tandis que.

In ‘modern French’ it has become acceptable as it can describe actions that are simultaneous as well as in contrast, even if, once again, it isn’t as elegant.

Now you can talk about actions that happen at the same time

There are many ways to express simultaneous actions in French.

From subordination and conjunction terms to simple expressions such as en même temps.

Perhaps you won’t be using all the conjunction terms, but you’ll frequently hear or read them anywhere you go.

Remember that some of them, apart from expressing simultaneous actions, can also emphasize the contract between two actions, happening at the same time.

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