Mentre is a conjugation that is always followed by a verb.
In English, the equivalent of mentre is “while.”
This word always requires the use of a verb conjugated in the present, past, or future.
Mentre and the past
A note goes to the use of the past with “mentre”.
As mentre implies the ongoing duration of action over a period of time, the right past tense to use is the “imperfect tense”. As a result, “mentre” can never be followed by a passato prossimo.
- mentre mettevo in ordine la stanza, ascoltavo un Podcast – while tidying up the room, I was listening to a podcast.
- mentre il professore spiegava, prendevo appunti – while the professor was explaining the lesson, I was taking notes
- mentre cucinavo, ho ricevuto una telefonata – while I was cooking, I got a phone call
English vs. Italian
Unlike in English, “mentre” can’t ever be followed by a gerund form. If in English it’s OK to say “while doing something”, in Italian it’s not possible and you’ll need to conjugate the verb.
Using a gerund verb form after “mentre” is a typical mistake English speakers make when speaking Italian.
For example, the phrase “while taking a walk, I listen to a Podcast” is correctly translated into Italian with “mentre faccio una passeggiata, ascolto un Podcast” and not with “mentre facendo…”
Durante is a preposition and is the equivalent of during in English. It is always followed by a noun (and never by a verb).
- Durante la cena, guardo la tv – during dinner, I watch TV
Mentre vs. durante
Let’s compare the use of mentre (+ verb) and durante (+noun) in the following sentences
- Mentre passeggiavo, ho raccolto dei mirtilli buonissimi – While I was walking around, I picked some yummy blueberries
- Durante la passeggiata, ho raccolto dei mirtilli buonissimi – During the walk, I picked some very good blueberries
- Mentre cenavamo, abbiamo parlato di molte cose interessanti – While we were eating dinner, we talked about many interesting things
- Durante la cena, abbiamo parlato di molte cose interessanti – During dinner, we talked about many interesting things