‘Mientras’ can be confusing for many Spanish learners because it can be used in several different ways, which all give the word a different meaning. Here I’ll look at the 3 ways we use the word, provide some example sentences, and make sure you never have problems again.
Through this article, I will be using two terms: indicative and subjunctive. These are what are called different “moods” of verbs, and it is important to understand the difference before I continue explaining.
The indicative mood is what you will be most familiar with and the mood in which most verbs are. In Spanish, when we use the present tense, future tense, imperfect, preterite, perfect or most other forms of the verb, we are using the indicative.
However, there are two forms of the subjunctive in Spanish too, which you will only briefly come across at GCSE, you will see a bit more of at A-Level and a bit more than that at university level. These are the present subjunctive and the imperfect subjunctive.
An explanation of the subjunctive is beyond this post, but I’ll say that the subjunctive is usually used when there is an element of doubt in the sentence. The present subjunctive (the form we will use in this post) is formed by using the ‘I’ form of a present tense verb, knocking off the ending and then:
- If the verb is an -AR verb, adding the -ER verb endings
- If the verb is an -ER or -IR verbs, adding the -AR verb endings
This is a slight simplification, but if you aren’t familiar with the subjunctive this gives you a basic grasp of what it is.
Mientras + indicative
When we use ‘mientras’ followed by a verb in the indicative mood, the word will translate as “while”. For example:
Mientras yo estaba caminando al colegio, escuchaba música (While I was walking to school, I was listening to music)
Él come mucho chocolate mientras ve el fútbol (He eats lots of chocolate while he watches the football)
Mientras mi hijo me hablaba, yo estaba pensando en otras cosas (While my son was speaking to me, I was thinking about other things)
Mientras que + indicative
This has a slightly different meaning from the above, and is used when we want to say “whereas” e.g.
Ella bebe una cerveza mientras que él bebe un jugo de naranja (She is drinking a beer whereas he is drinking an orange juice)
A mí me gusta explorar mientras que mi padre prefiere quedarse en casa (I like to explore whereas my father prefers to stay at home)
Tú escuchas música todo el tiempo mientras que él casi nunca la escucha (You listen to music all the time whereas he hardly ever listens to it)
Mientras + subjunctive
The last two have both been followed by the indicative and so they are easier for students to get their heads around, whereas (see what I did there) with this last form we have to use the subjunctive. When we use ‘mientras’ followed by a verb in the subjunctive mood, it means “as long as” or “so long as”, for example:
Mientras ella no me escuche, no va a recibir ningún regalo (So long as she doesn’t listen to me, she’s not going to get any presents)
Mientras haga sol, vamos a quedarnos en la playa (As long as it’s sunny, we’re going to stay on the beach)
Mientras mi esposa quiera hacerlo, lo vamos a hacer (So long as my wife wants to do it, we are going to do it)
Still confused about how to use this? Please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll make sure to do all we can to ensure you understand the differences between these uses of ‘mientras’!