Contrasting while and meanwhile for contrast

The amount of time children spent watching TV remained stable, meanwhile the amount of time they spent using computers increased dramatically.

In this post we contrast while and meanwhile in terms of grammatical usage and their usefulness as contrast signals.

While for contrast

  • While the amount of time children spent watching TV remained stable, the amount of time they spent using computers increased dramatically.
  • (notice the comma separating the things being contrasted – Indonesian flag and no ‘but’ following the comma!)
  • The amount of time children spent watching TV remained stable, while the amount of time they spent using computers increased dramatically.
  • (all one sentence)

Meanwhile for contrast

Meanwhile generally comes at the beginning of a new sentence, usually before but sometimes immediately following the subject, and is introducing the second or final of a series of things – from previous sentences – being contrasted. It is usually separated from surrounding text using commas.

  • The amount of time children spent watching TV remained stable. Meanwhile, the amount of time they spent using computers increased dramatically.
  • (extremely common)
  • The amount of time children spent watching TV remained stable. The amount of time they spent using computers, meanwhile, increased dramatically.
  • (possible, but less common)

Meanwhile for concurrent events

Another use of meanwhile is to report an event that is happening at – or around the same time as – another event, and there is some kind of relationship between the events.

  • Scientists and politicians continue to disagree about global warming. Meanwhile natural disasters are becoming more frequent.
  • (meanwhile signals possible cause / effect relationship)
  • My wife is obsessed with her appearance and constantly trying to lose weight. Meanwhile she has coffee and cakes every morning with her friends.
  • (meanwhile establishes an ironic relationship)
  • Inflation is high and food is scarce. Meanwhile clean water is difficult to find.
  • (meanwhile adds to a list of similarly negative situations)

Using meanwhile for concurrent events is likely to cause your reader or listener to say to him or herself “Indeed, that is a strange situation!” For this reason, meanwhile is often used to introduce the final story of a news report, to introduce a strange scenario that is happening at the same time as all the other events mentioned in the news, but in a different place.

The featured image for this post comes from one such report and began “Meanwhile in Bulgaria…!”

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