Some students have asked me to define the difference between “als” and “während” in describing something in a temporal way that has happened in the past. Specifically:
Do they both describe events/actions happening at the same time as one another or are they just simply referring to an event in the past?
Simply said I would define them as follows:
Während is used to reference to simultaneous events/actions that have happened over a span of time. Whereby the secondary sentence describes a continuous action, the main sentence describes an action within the time period specified in the secondary sentence. In the secondary sentence the verb always stands at the end.
Während wir draußen standen, hat es geregnet.
(While we stood outside, it was raining.)
Als is used to describe simultaneous one-off/unique events/actions that have happened in the past.
Als wir ins Kino gegangen sind, war ich sehr nervös.
(When we went to the movies, I was very nervous.)
When digging deeper, these two words can be quite confusing to differentiate and in some instances it makes sense to use synonyms or clarify to make sure the listener or reader understands, such as:
Als (a point in Time)
Damals, als wir ins Kino gegangen sind… = Back then, when we went to the cinema…
Früher, als ich Tennis gespielt habe… = In the past, when I played Tennis…
Happy to have more people chime in on the discussion?
Does what I wrote even make sense?
What do you prefer to use? Do you say “wenn” instead?