‘mientras’ VS. ‘mientras que’

This week I visited Universidad de Alcalá (UAH) (Madrid, Spain) to attend the workshop COROLA “Copulas within and across Romance Languages”. As you can infer from the title of the workshop, it was a perfect event for me to learn more about ser and estar, the verbs around which my PhD revolves. The workshop was really interesting and I am looking forward to attending next editions!

 

After the workshop, while I was taking a night walk in this beautiful Spanish city (Alcalá de Henares), I met a group of exchange students from Ireland and UK. Their knowledge of Spanish was simply amazing. We had a great time and they also asked me a great question that I was not able to answer with ease at that moment: What is the difference between ‘mientras’ and ‘mientras que’?

So in this post I am going to explain the distinction between ‘mientras’ and ‘mientras que’ and I would like to dedicate it to these nice exchange students! It was great meeting you, people!

Let’s see. Here you have a simplified overview of the meanings.

  1. mientras + indicativo = while
  2. mientras + subjuntivo = as long as
  3. mientras (between punctuation) = meanwhile
  4. mientras que = while (with the sense of BY CONTRAST)
  5. Other considerations:
    • mientras más…, más… = the more…, the more…
    • mientras que in Latin America.

Now, let’s see explanations and remarks of these five options.

1. ‘MIENTRAS’ + verb in INDICATIVO

Example 1 (present): Mientras tú cocinas, yo preparo las bebidas, ¿vale?

Example 2 (past): Mientras tú cocinabas, yo preparaba las bebidas.

When mientras is followed by indicativo we are using “mientras” as a conjunction with temporal aspect which could be translated to English as whileLet’s see the translations:

Example 1: While you cook I (‘ll) prepare the drinks, ok?

Example 2: While you were cooking I prepared (was preparing) the drinks.

–> german_flag In German, the translation would be während.

 

2. ‘MIENTRAS’ + verb in SUBJUNTIVO

Example 1 (present): Los jóvenes pueden entrar gratis al museo mientras presenten su carnet de estudiante.

Example 2 (past): En aquel tiempo, los jóvenes podían entrar gratis al museo mientras presentaran su carnet de estudiante.

When mientras is followed by subjuntivo we are using “mientras” as a conjunction with conditional aspect which could be translated to English as as long asLet’s see the translations:

Example 1: Young people can enter the museum for free as long as they show their student card / upon presentation of their student card.

Example 2: At that time, young people could enter the museum for free as long as they showed their student card / upon presentation of their student card.

–> german_flag In German, the translation would be solange.
–> You can also say “siempre que + subjuntivo” with the same meaning: Los jóvenes pueden entrar gratis al museo siempre que presenten su carnet de estudiante.

 

3. ‘MIENTRAS’ when used alone, between punctuation

Example 1 (present): María estudia. Mientras, Laura escucha música.

Example 2 (past): María estudiaba. Mientras, Laura escuchaba música.

When mientras is used between punctuation we are using “mientras” as an adverb which could be translated to English as meanwhileLet’s see the translations:

Example 1: Maria studies. Meanwhile, Laura listens to music.

Example 2: Maria was studying. Meanwhile, Laura was listening to music.

–> german_flag In German, the translation would be mittlerweile or währenddessen.
–> You can also say “mientras tanto” with the same meaning: María estudia. Mientras tanto, Laura escucha música.

 

4. ‘MIENTRAS QUE’

Example: Mis asignaturas favoritas son inglés y español, mientras que las tuyas son Geografía e Historia.

We use mientras que for contrasting two things. It is semantically similar to “by contrast” or “while” in English. Let’s see the translation from the given example.

Example: My favourite subjects are English and Spanish, while yours are Geography and History.

The same way we can use, in English, “by contrast” and “while” for this situation, in Spanish we can use not only “mientras que” but also “mientras” (Dear reader, please, do not desperate!) So it would be also correct to say: Mis asignaturas favoritas son inglés y español, mientras que las tuyas son Geografía e Historia.

–> german_flag In German, a valid translation would be dagegen.
–> You can also say “en cambio,” with the same meaning: Mis asignaturas favoritas son inglés y español. En cambio, las tuyas son Geografía e Historia.

5. OTHER CONSIDERATIONS

5.1.  In Spanish, to express “the more he has, the more he wants” we can say it using ‘mientras’. Also, and only in this case we can use ‘cuanto’ instead of ‘mientras’. Both ‘cuanto’ and ‘mientras’ are correct but ‘cuanto’ is a little less formal than ‘mientras’.

Mientras más tiene, más desea.

Cuanto más tiene, más desea.

5.2. Although as expressed in section 4, ‘mientras que’ has only a contrastive aspect, in American Spanish you can use “mientras que” also for temporal purposes. This means that in Spain this is not correct:

*Mientras que tú cocinas, yo preparo las bebidas, ¿vale?

But it is accepted in American Spanish.

I hope this was useful. As a compact summary, we could say that…

…you should always use “mientras” unless you want to express “while” with an aspect of CONTRAST, where you can choose between “mientras” or “mientras que”.

🙂

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