When

'When' is a WH-word, which is mostly used in question form. In this lesson, we will learn everything about this word.

How to Use "When" in the English Grammar

When is a widely-used vocabulary and a part of the WH-words category. We will learn five functions of when in this lesson:

1. 'When' as an Interrogative Adverb

Use

When as an interrogative adverb is used to ask questions about the time of an action. For example:

When is the meeting?

'When' asks about the time of an action.

Position in a Sentence

When is used either alone or at the beginning of a clause. If it is used at the beginning of a clause, an inversion is needed. Here are three steps to make an inversion:

  1. The interrogative adverb comes at the beginning of a clause.
  2. The adverb of time is omitted.
  3. The subject and the verb are inverted.

Tip

1. The subjects 'I' and 'we' are replaced with 'you' in interrogative sentences.
2. If there is a main verb in a sentence, a semi-auxiliary or an auxiliary verb is needed to make an interrogation.

Here is an example:

A : They are coming back at 7.

B : When are they coming back?

Tip

When as an interrogative adverb is used alone to show emotion. Here are some examples:

When?

'When' here shows impatience.

2. 'When' as a Conjunction of Time

Use

When as a conjunction of time introduces an adverbial clause, expressing when an action happens. It also functions as adverbs and describes a verb, an adjective, or another adverb. Now look at its uses and some examples:

  • When is used when the two actions are happening at the same time or during that time, here when has a similar meaning to while; like:

When my sister called me, I was coming back home.

Two actions are happening simultaneously.

I was driving when my sister was talking to me.

'My sister was talking to me' is happening during ' I was driving.'

  • When means after or just after; such as:

I will play with you, when you have cooked the meal.

‘I will play with you’ happens after 'you have cooked the meal.'

You called me when I stepped into the home.

'When' here means 'just after.'

  • When shows a condition and it has a similar meaning to 'whenever, if.' For example:

I call you when I have time.

Position in a Sentence

When only comes before an adverbial clause. An adverbial clause comes before or after the independent clause.

You called me when I stepped into the home.

'When I stepped into the home' can also be used after 'you called me.'

3. 'When' as a Subordinating Conjunction

Use

When as a subordinating conjunction introduces an adverbial clause. It shows concession, contrast, or reason. Now, take a look at the uses and examples of when as subordinating conjunction:

  • When shows that there is a concession between two clauses, which means the dependent clause is rather surprising or unlikely; here when is synonymous with although, though; like:

I had to read a horror book when I really wanted to watch a horror movie.

  • When shows that there is a contrast between two clauses; when here is synonymous with 'whereas, while.' For example:

I came back home when she wanted to stay there.

  • When can mean 'for the reason that.' It has a similar meaning to 'since.' For example:

I don’t go out when I have no money left.

Position in a Sentence

When is only used at the beginning of the dependent clause. For example:

I don’t go out when I have no money left.

'I have no money' is marked by 'when.'

4. 'When' as a Relative Adverb

Use

When as a relative adverb introduces an adjective clause that functions as an adjective and describes a noun or a noun phrase it precedes. Here is an example:

She remembers the night when you asked her out.

'When you asked her' acts as an adjective for 'the night.'

Position in a Sentence

When as a relative adverb always comes at the beginning of the adjective clause. Now, take a look at an example:

She remembers the night when you asked her out.

'When' comes at the beginning of the adjective clause 'you asked her out.'

5. 'When' as a Nominal Relative Pronoun

Use

When as a nominal relative pronoun connects a nominal relative clause to the main clause. The nominal relative clause is either the object or subject of the main clause. Now, take a look at its uses and some examples:

I don't know when to see you.

The nominal relative clause acts as an object here.

When to see you doesn't matter.

The nominal relative clause acts as a subject here.

Position in a Sentence

When as a relative pronoun always comes at the beginning of the relative clause. When is used in two ways:

  • When precedes a sentence; here are two examples:

I never asked when you saw me.

When you go doesn’t matter.

  • The nominal relative pronoun when can precede an infinitive too. For example:

I never forget when to see you.

When to see you doesn’t matter.

I never forget when to see you.

'When to see you' is a nominal relative clause introduced by 'when.'

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