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do these sentences have different meanings?

When she was back, I decided to do my homework.(Can this one have two meanings?)

I decided to do my homework when she was back.(Can this one have two meanings?)

When she was back, I was going to do my homework.

I was going to do my homework when she was back.

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    You probably mean "when she returned". Also, "when she came back" is fine.
    – Andrew
    Commented Oct 6, 2016 at 20:56
  • 1
    Andrew made some good points in his answer. This remains as a comment: putting when at the beginning of either clause makes it marginal to the whole story (subordination). Sometimes this becomes really clear. Read this example for instance; doesn't it sound alittle off? I came back from work when I saw a 10-foot cobra in my bed. Now read this: When I came back from work, I saw a 10-foot cobra in my bed or after coming back from work, I saw a 10-foot cobra in my bed. Source: _Writing with Confidence.
    – Yuri
    Commented Oct 7, 2016 at 9:51

1 Answer 1

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Assuming you mean "when she returned" (since "when she was back" is not natural English):

When she returned, I decided to do my homework

She came back, and then I made the decision to do my homework.

I decided to do my homework when she returned

I decided in advance to do my homework at the time when she returned. Although it can also mean that you decided at the moment she came back, this would not be my initial interpretation.

When she returned, I was going to do my homework

At the time she returned I intended to do my homework (but then something happened).

I was going to do my homework when she returned.

Either I had planned to do my homework at the time she came back (but then something happened), or her returning interrupted my intention to do my homework.

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  • Thanks for your help!!!But can the second one mean" I decided to do homework at the time she returned"?
    – moyeea
    Commented Oct 6, 2016 at 21:09
  • Yes, as I said, but without additional context and/or punctuation, it wouldn't be my first thought.
    – Andrew
    Commented Oct 6, 2016 at 21:16
  • Shouldn't the second one be "I decided to do my homework when she returns" (upon her return) to mean "I decided in advance to do my homework at the time when she returned." (upon her return) Commented Apr 14, 2017 at 13:22
  • The 4th sentence gets clearer if you add "suddenly" after "when". "I was going to do my homework when suddenly she returned." Commented Apr 14, 2017 at 13:25
  • @SovereignSun "I decided to do my homework when she returned" means both actions happened in the past. Unless it is a direct quote, eg "I told her, 'I will do my homework when you return'" you would back-shift the verb as with reported speech.
    – Andrew
    Commented Apr 14, 2017 at 16:35

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