1

What would be the "official" way to complete the following sentence?


She said she would collect the book on Monday when she _____ home from school

1. Came

2. Would come

EDIT: A few of you guessed correctly. I'm currently in France and this is a test my English teacher gave me. It was just 20 sentences to complete, similar to these ones. She gave an answer that I'm 98% sure is the wrong one, but I need to know why one of them is right/wrong before complaining about my grade.

  • What makes you think there's only one "official" way to complete the sentence? – J.R. Sep 19 '16 at 19:53
  • @J.R. Well, the OP did put the word in quotes, which many will take to connote a whimsical usage. – P. E. Dant Reinstate Monica Sep 19 '16 at 19:57
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    @PED - To me that connotes this was lifted from a practice exam. If so, the O.P. should mention that. – J.R. Sep 19 '16 at 20:02
  • @J.R. Hmmm, that didn't occur to me. Perhaps I need to sharpen my critical faculties. Certainly, though, if it's from an exam we ought to have that context in the question. – P. E. Dant Reinstate Monica Sep 19 '16 at 20:10
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    Came is idiomatic here; would come is terribly unidiomatic. – Alan Carmack Sep 19 '16 at 21:25
2

Of the two choices, the simple past is best (although not "official!")

She said she would collect the book on Monday when she came home from school.

Irrealis conditionals like would call for this kind of tense simplification in subordinate clauses. We use the preterite came here because at the time in the future when the subject will collect the book, the action of coming home is already completed.

In Swan's Practical English Usage, the author says:

If the main verb of a sentence makes it clear what kind of time the speaker is talking about, it is not always necessary for the same time to be indicated again in subordinate clauses.

And also:

Would, like will, is avoided in subordinate clauses; instead, we generally use past verbs. This happens in if-clauses, and also after most other conjunctions.

Contrast your example with the same sentence using the simple future instead of the conditional:

She said she will collect the book on Monday when she comes home from school.

Here the verb in the WH-clause is simplified to the simple present.

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'Came' is what I'm most accustomed to hearing and using in this context. It's typically a bad idea to use the same word, 'would', twice in the same sentence, and in this example 'would' is implied by the word 'came' so is redundant and unnecessary.

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    How does the verb came imply the verb would? Can you explain further? – P. E. Dant Reinstate Monica Sep 19 '16 at 19:51
  • On second thought, maybe it's implied by the initial use of 'would'. I know 'came' is correct but I'm having trouble explaining why. – Canadian Coder Sep 19 '16 at 20:01
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The usual answer is

She said she would collect the book on Monday when she came home from school.

By using "came" and not "would come home" we know that "she" will definitely be coming home (we do not know whether she will collect the book, only that collection is the intent).

However

She said she would collect the book on Monday when she would come home from school.

is not incorrect, but not often used since it is bulky and awkward. Using "would come home" can be understood to mean she may or may not come home. In this case, it might be phrased as

She said she would collect the book on Monday if she came home from school.

I think your teacher might prefer the second sentence since:

1) there is parallelism in the two "she would something" clauses
2) it maintains the hypothetical "would" in both clauses

However, neither #1 nor #2 is necessary.

Just a thought.

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  • -1 Using came does not tell us that "she will definitely be coming home." Heck, one reason to say the sentence in the first place is exactly because she didn't come home. Second, this is a place where parallelism is not used. Pedantic has apparently correctly quoted Swan to the effect that we do not use will or its past tense would in the subordinate clause of sentences of this structure. Thus we would not use will in the dependent clause in *'She said she will collect the book on Monday when/if she will come home from school.' – Alan Carmack Sep 20 '16 at 0:40
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    @AlanCarmack How would you describe the difference between "came" and "would come" if not one being more definite than the other? Also, I am not suggesting that parallel construction be used, but it struck me as a possible reason the teacher might have in mind, but then who knows what the teacher has in mind... – Peter Sep 20 '16 at 1:43
  • The difference is that we simply don't use would come or will come (When they they refer to future time, as they do here) in a subordinate clause of this type, or in the if-clauses of conditional sentences. Again, see especially this quote from Swan: "Would, like will, is avoided in subordinate clauses; instead, we generally use past verbs. This happens in if-clauses, and also after most other conjunctions." – Alan Carmack Sep 20 '16 at 15:25

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