In conversations we rely on a lot of points of reference. The reference points help us make a situation so much clearer to whomever we might speak to. Time is one of the biggest reference points we have so you can take a safe bet there is a lot of grammar dealing with expressing time. Let’s slowly tackle a few ways you use time in Korean starting with 동안.

While and During

The world is a busy place. Things are always happening all around us while we are doing our thing. Sometimes we want to mention what we are doing while something was happening around us. In English we use words such as ‘during’ or ‘while’. In Korean one way to do the same thing is using the word 동안 that you can translate into during’ or ‘while’.

동안 is thus used to help you tell someone what you are doing while something else was happening. This something else can be a noun or a verb (action verbs only). If you use a noun you simply need to write the noun in front of it. That’s all you need to do. However, you cannot use all nouns with this time expression. Instead you can only use nouns that express a duration of time such as 시간 or 휴가. For activities you’ll have to use verb alternatives.

However, if you want to use a verb with 동안 you need to attach -는 to the verb stem. For this grammar pattern it matters not whether the verb stem ends in a vowel or not. However, keep the consonant rule in mind of the ㄹ irregular verbs in mind. After that you write the verb in front of 동안 like you would for a noun.

-(으)면서 vs 동안

There is a verb pattern that is very similar to 동안 which is -(으)면서. The first obvious difference is that you can only verbs can use the -(으)면서 grammar pattern. However, there are other differences that are more important to know.

Different subjects can be used in the first and second clause when using 동안.

The grammar pattern  -(으)면서 can only be used when the same person performs several actions at the same time. Thus the subject of the clauses is the same. For example, you cannot use -(으)면서 to tell you were dancing to loud music while your mother is vacuuming. If you want to say that you need to use 동안 which can be used where both clauses have different subjects.

Keep this difference in mind when using either grammar patterns.

Time Expressions- 동안 - Summary
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A summary on the time expression 동안