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Words like "as" have many definitions, so I'm having difficulty finding the Spanish word that would make sense in this sense:

"Where are you going?" John asked as Mary grabbed her keys.

I first tried to find a direct translation of as, and got como. But that didn't sound quite right. So I tried while and got mientras but I don't think that's quite right either; the two events don't happen exactly simultaneously. She starts to pick up the keys and that's when he asks; it probably takes less time for her to pick up the keys than for him to finish his question, so he's still talking when she's done. The same applies to during, which I tried next (and got durante). Not quite right for similar reasons to while.

So I'm just not quite sure what Spanish word fits here. I have a feeling that there's perhaps an idiomatic construction for situations like these, since as is such a versatile word in English; I understand why a direct translation might be unlikely. So, can anyone help me out here? :)

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3 Answers 3

up vote 6 down vote accepted

mientras (que) sounds right for me, as the use of as in your phrase makes me think Mary's grabbing her keys while John is asking. Also another translation that comes to my mind is al momento/instante/tiempo que or en tanto que which would be more "at the same time" than mientras. Also I think durante would not make much sense here. Some translations I'd use:

  • "¿A dónde vas?" Pregunto John mientras (que) Mary tomaba sus llaves
  • "¿A dónde vas?" Pregunto John al momento que Mary tomaba sus llaves
  • "¿A dónde vas?" Pregunto John al instante que Mary tomaba sus llaves
  • "¿A dónde vas?" Pregunto John al tiempo que Mary tomaba sus llaves
  • "¿A dónde vas?" Pregunto John en tanto que Mary tomaba sus llaves
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Thanks again for the helpful answer! :) I understand all the other examples, but with is the difference between using mientras by itself vs. mientras que? Thank you! –  WendiKidd Aug 26 '13 at 2:13
1  
"cuando" also works here: Preguntó John cuando Mary tomaba sus llaves It is also relevant to notice Preguntó needs accent (tilde) otherwise it would say: ..going? I ask John as Mary.. which doesn't make much sense. –  OscarRyz Aug 26 '13 at 17:06
    
@WendiKidd You're welcome, and I'd say the meaning of both ways is the same –  darkajax Aug 26 '13 at 19:48

I agree with @darkajax for the most part, and he gives several viable options for this specific context. I just wanted to add a common translation for "as" in other contexts: "a medida que".

As her grandchildren grew taller, Grandma got shorter.

A medida que sus nietos crecían más altos, la abu se hacía más baja.

"A medida que" expresses a meaning similar to "mientras que", but, as is the case with "as" and "while", they're used in slightly different contexts.

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In this case, since John's action is a consequence of Mary's, I would vary the construction in Spanish slightly:

"¿A dónde vas?", preguntó John cuando Mary cogió las llaves.

Mientras can be a correct word, but it emphasises the simultaneous nature of both actions, not the consequential relation.

Notice that I have used cogió and not cogía. In this case, the verb tense is very important. If I use cogía, I am once again emphasising the simultaneity and not the consequence. The way I write it, both actions happen more or less at the same time too, but it is clear that John's starts after Mary's.

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Thanks for the answer; very insightful! I hadn't considered cuando, but I like the way you've used it here. It sounds right in my head, and seems most similar to the original as :) Thanks! (+1 :)) –  WendiKidd Aug 26 '13 at 20:17

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