The use of mientras

We use mientras (while) to express…

1.  Simultaneous actions

  • In the past: past continuous / simple past + mientras + past continuous

Hablaba hablar, pret. imperf. por teléfono mientras conducía conducir, pret. imperf.. 

She was talking on the phone while she was driving.

Vi ver, pret. indefinido a Ana mientras tomaba tomar, pret. imperf. una cerveza con Magda.

I saw Ana while she was having a beer with Magda.

  • In the present: simple present + mientras + simple present

Carolina cocina mientras escucha música.

Carolina cooks while she listens to music.

  • In the future: simple future + mientras + simple present

Vigilaré tu bolso mientras vas al baño.

I'll keep an eye on your bag while you go to the bathroom.

2. A condition. In this case, mientras takes on another meaning: “unless” or “as long as”, depending on the context.

  • Simple future + mientras + present subjunctive.

No aprobarás el examen mientras no estudies.

You won't pass the exam unless you study.

Saldré mientras haga buen clima.

I'll go out as long as the weather is nice.

Note: we may begin the sentence with mientras.

Mientras tú juegas, yo trabajo.

While you play, I work.

Mientras no estudies, no aprobarás el examen.

Unless you study, you won't pass the exam.

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