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I don't understand when to use "во времена" instead of "во время", but feel like it is used when it refers to a person, not an incident. For example,

Гоголь начал писать ещё во времена Пушкинa.

Во времена Александра Второго в России прошла административная реформа.

In these cases, can I use во время as well? And what is the difference between them? At least I understand that во времена is not used if the person referred to is not an important figure.

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Во время means "during something":

  • Во время войны (= "during the war") Россия жила по сухому закону. [Даниил Гранин. Зубр (1987)]

  • Впервые эта служба была совершена всенародно во время севастопольской осады (= "during the siege of Sevastopol"). [митрополит Антоний (Блум). Страстная седмица (1980)]

Во времена means "in the times of something":

  • Так, например, конкурс красоты во времена Париса (= "in the times of Paris") закончился Троянской войной. [М. В. Мусийчук. О сходстве приемов остроумия и механизмов построения парадоксальных задач // «Вопросы психологии», 2003]

  • Во времена Петра I (= "in the times of Peter I"), открывшего крупные полотняные мануфактуры, российские товары из льна охотно покупали купцы из Европы. [Светлана Чечилова. Вещь в себе // «Здоровье», 1999.03.15]

Во время is used with the processes, periods or epochs; во времена is used with the hallmarks of processes or epochs.

Like in English, you can use во времена instead of во время if the period you're talking about is notable. Во время холодной войны ("during the Cold War") and во времена холодной войны ("in the times of the Cold War") are both OK. The Cold War was both a period and a hallmark of its epoch.

*Во время Пушкина and *во время Александра Второго can be sometimes used in colloquial speech but this would be poor style. Pushkin and Alexander II are hallmarks of their epochs, not the epochs themselves.

The same is in English: "during Alexander II" does not make sense, but "in the times of Alexander II" or "during Alexander II's reign" do.

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    Good answer. I would only point out that it is "in the times", not "at the times". The phrase "at the times" is used when specified days and hours are meant: "The film will be shown at the times indicated above." We would also probably use the singular "in the time of Alexander II" if we are referring to the period of his reign since it was a single period. The "times" (plural) of a historical figure are generally understood to be the external political and social situations he saw while he was alive.
    – David42
    Oct 25 at 12:00
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    @David42: thanks! Please feel free to correct mistakes in my English any time.
    – Quassnoi
    Oct 25 at 12:09
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"Во времена" means during a time period. "Во время" means the time when a certain event occurred.

At least I understand that во времена is not used if the person referred to is not an important figure.

This is false. For example: "во времена Татаро-Монгольского ига". Or: "во времена красного террора". These examples do not refer to any specific person. Truth is that both во времена and во время usually refer to something notable. It might be a famous person of a famous event or a famous time period. For example "В этих краях это слово считается синонимом яда со времен всемирного потопа".

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