The Meaning and Use of the Preposition ‘During’

As a continuation of the series on frequently-confused English prepositions, this post focuses on the word ‘during’, which is primarily used to indicate a specific period or time within which an action or event takes place. For more information on prepositions in general, please see this post. Prepositions are words that help establish relationships between different elements in a sentence, such as nouns, pronouns and phrases, by indicating location, time, direction, possession and more. However, the word ‘during’, which can be straightforwardly translated according to its dictionary definition into most languages, is also a false cognate, otherwise known as a false friend, to some other languages. Cognates are words in different languages that share a common origin and have similar meanings.

The word ‘during’

The dictionary definition of ‘during’, according to the Cambridge English Dictionary, is: from the beginning to the end of a particular period. Read this very carefully, students; this means from the beginning to the end of a particular period, but this is very often a specified period within a period. This is important to understand because ‘during’ looks so similar to the word ‘durante’ in Spanish, Italian and Portuguese that although its meaning is somewhat different this word is frequently misused by language learners of these particular origins. The word ‘durante’ sometimes means ‘during’, but often means the equivalent of the English words ‘for’, ‘in’, ‘at’ or ‘throughout’, and in such cases to use ‘during’ is inappropriate. It is also relevant to note that there are cases where ‘durante’ is used as an adverb, which modifies a verb and does not require a noun to follow it, unlike ‘during’ in English.

birds seen during flight

Regardless of your mother tongue, let’s examine how ‘during’ is used correctly in English:

Temporal events

As also explained in the post on prepositions, some prepositions are ‘temporal’; they tell us the relative position of something in time. ‘During’ is a temporal preposition and can be used to specify when an action or event occurs within a larger timeframe:

  • She studied diligently during the exam week
  • During the summer, they often go on holiday to Spain
  • During the second half of the concert, I began to feel unwell

Time references

As a temporal preposition, ‘during’ has some other uses; it is also used to reference a specific time or period in relation to another event or action:

  • The incident occurred during the night
  • She felt tired during the day

In the above instances (contrary to ‘durante’), ‘during’ does not specify whether this incident or this tiredness was for a period of time during the day/night or whether they lasted throughout the day/night respectively. If one wanted to know this detail, the sentence would have to be restructured:

  • The incident occurred early on during the night
  • She felt tired at times during the day

Ongoing actions

But, ‘during’ can indicate that something happens simultaneously or throughout the duration of another action:

  • She listened to music during her workout
  • The children were playing games during the party
  • During the summer, the sun shone every day

In these instances, we are not given more specific details of when the children played during the party, but it is important for students to be aware that the word ‘during’ denotes that there were games at unnamed or unspecified times during the party, and NOT throughout the entire party.

Noun phrases

Finally, be aware that ‘during’ is often followed by a noun phrase that represents the period or event:

  • He worked long hours during the festive season
  • They had a heated argument during the meeting

In English, this is essential because ‘during’ is merely the preposition that is establishing the precise relationship between the noun phrase and the rest of the sentence.

Phrasal verbs

Unlike many prepositions, ‘during’ is not typically used as part of a phrasal verb in English. Phrasal verbs consist of a verb and one or more particles (prepositions or adverbs) that together create a unique meaning and function as a phrasal verb – a verb phrase.

Phrasal verbs in English often involve common particles like ‘up’, ‘down’, ‘on’, ‘off’, ‘out’ and many others, but ‘during’ is not commonly used in this way. Instead, ‘during’ functions as a standalone preposition to indicate the temporal relationship between two events or actions as shown above.

The origins of the word

The word ‘during’ can be traced back to Latin, when the Romans occupied Britain from around 43 to 410AD. It came from the Latin word ‘durante’, which, as previously mentioned, is unchanged in its present day form in Spanish, Italian and Portuguese. ‘Durante’ is the present participle of the verb ‘durare’, meaning ‘to endure’. In Latin, ‘durante’ was used as a preposition that meant ‘while’ or ‘during’. While Latin continues to be written in churches and taught to this day, as a language, it died out and ceased being spoken around the fifth century in Britain. At this time, around Europe, it began to evolve into the other languages of the Romance branch that we know today, such as French and Italian.

After the Norman conquest of England in 1066, there was a significant influence of Old French on the English language. The French ruled in England for several hundred years and during this period, many French words were incorporated into the Old English vocabulary. The Old French equivalent of ‘durante’ was ‘dorant’ or ‘durant’, which, like the Latin ‘durante’, was used as a preposition.

When Middle English emerged in the twelfth century, the influence of the French dialects spoken in England continued to grow. Because the French were the ruling classes, wealthy and educated English people incorporated French words into their vocabulary, but without any standard written or spoken English in existence at that time, many words varied according to how they were pronounced, and words were not fixed in one form or spelling as we are accustomed to them being today. That is how the word ‘dorant’ gradually evolved (like Chinese whispers) into ‘duryng’ in Middle English, retaining its meaning. Then, during the late Middle English and early Modern English periods (14th to 17th centuries) when the printing press came to Britain and writing and reading became more commonplace, spelling was standardised and ‘during’ became the chosen spelling of the word.

‘During’ is now used to refer to a specific period in which an event takes place, indicating that something happens throughout a given time, so what is called ‘semantic narrowing’ has occurred to the meaning of the word in the English language.


‘During’ is very specifically a temporal preposition, and it is not a spatial preposition. Sometimes, students of a particular heritage attempt to substitute ‘during’ with other more versatile prepositions, but as this article has elucidated, ‘during’ has a very specific meaning and no other word can suitably replace it to successfully convey the same meaning:

  • During the wedding, I drank a beer = At some point of time within that day at the wedding I drank a beer
  • During my week in France, I stayed with an old friend = At some point in the week that I spent in France, I visited a friend
  • She studied diligently during the exam week = At times during the week, she studied hard
  • Throughout the wedding, I drank beer = I drank beer for the entire day, possibly from the start to the end of the event
  • For the duration of my week in France, I stayed with an old friend = In this instance, one can see that the sentence needs to be worded carefully to convey the correct meaning
  • She studied relentlessly throughout the exam week = She studied diligently and didn’t waste a moment

Exercises to practise

Have a go at the following exercises to see whether ‘during’ is the correct preposition in the given contexts.

Created on By Michelle

The Preposition 'During'

Practise using the preposition 'during'

1 / 9

You will have to get up ----- at some point

2 / 9

---- the war, times were hard

3 / 9

She ate ice cream ------ breakfast

4 / 9

We went for a walk ----- our lunch break

5 / 9

----- the summer, I studied for my exams

6 / 9

The concert was ----- Saturday evening

7 / 9

I visited my friend ----- the weekend

8 / 9

I went to the beach ----- the day

9 / 9

I went to the beach ---- the whole day

Your score is

The average score is 88%


If you have any questions or comments, please do add them below.


Börjars, Kersti, and others. Introducing English Grammar, 2nd edn (Routledge, 2010)

Burton-Roberts, Noel. Analysing Sentences: An Introduction to English Syntax, 4th edn (Routledge, 2016)

Cresswell, Julia. Oxford Dictionary of Word Origins, 3rd edn (Oxford University Press, 2021)

Crystal, David. The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language, 3rd edn (Cambridge University Press, 2019)

Dreyer, Benjamin. Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style (Penguin Random House, 2020)

Hewings, Martin, and others. Cambridge English Grammar and Vocabulary for Advanced (Cambridge University Press, 2015)

Huddleston, Rodney, and others. The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (Cambridge University Press, 2002)

Parrott, Martin. Grammar for English Language Teachers, 2nd edn (Cambridge University Press, 2011)

Quirk, Randolph, and others. A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language, reprint edn (Pearson, 2011)

Seely, John. Oxford A – Z of Grammar & Punctuation (Oxford University Press, 2020)

Trask, R. L. The Penguin Guide to Punctuation (Penguin Books, 1997)

Yates Ph.D., Jean. Prepositions, 3rd edn (Barron’s Education, 2020)

New Hart’s Rules: The Handbook of Style for Writers and Editors (Oxford University Press, 2005)


  1. I must say, I found the article on the meaning and use of the preposition ‘during’ quite informative and helpful. As an American learning Tagalog, I often struggle with understanding the nuances of prepositions in this foreign language, and this article shed some light on the specific usage of ‘during’.The article begins by explaining that ‘during’ is primarily used to indicate a specific period or time within which an action or event takes place. This clarification immediately cleared up any confusion I had regarding its usage. I appreciate how the article also refers readers to a previous post on prepositions in general, allowing us to delve deeper into this complex topic.One aspect of the article that caught my attention was the mention of ‘during’ being a false cognate or false friend in some languages. As someone who is learning Tagalog, I can relate to the challenges that false cognates present. It’s fascinating to learn that ‘during’ may have a straightforward translation in its dictionary definition, but its usage and connotations may differ in other languages. This reminds me to be cautious when relying solely on direct translations.Overall, I found this article to be a valuable resource for understanding the meaning and use of the preposition ‘during’. The clear explanations and examples provided have enhanced my comprehension of this particular preposition, and I feel more confident in incorporating it correctly into my Tagalog communication. I look forward to exploring more articles in this series on frequently-confused prepositions.

    • Hello Alquante, and thank you so much for your detailed comments. Very interesting to read about your experiences of learning Tagalog. Yes indeed, false cognates can be misleading. I’m so glad you find the series useful. I wish you success with your learning! 

  2. Hi Michelle:

    I find your website to be a very important and informative one. I relate to it because my native language is British English although now I have to use American English. As a matter of fact, I aspired to teach English Language after high school but my path turned out differently.

    Your method is thorough, one which will benefit foreign students and others who seek clarity in word usage. Your website is a great resource for everyone in general. Thank you for making your knowledge available in this way.


    • Hi Veron, thank you so much for your comment. I’m glad you find the website interesting and appreciate your feedback. Best wishes to you, Michelle

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