'Christmas is a time when there are many parties'.

Why can't we omit 'when' in this sentence?

It appears in a grammar book for students of English, and although 'when' can be omitted if the relative clause has its own subject, it doesn't seem to be possible here. Is it because of the verb 'there are'?

Could you give a grammatical explanation?

  • Here, when is a relative adverb that refers to time. And when you want to talk about time, you would use “when”. And when is used because time is used before. Commented Jan 12, 2018 at 13:25
  • 2
    Could you give an example sentence where "when" can be omitted? It's possible you're confusing two different grammar rules.
    – Andrew
    Commented Jan 12, 2018 at 20:24
  • 1
    @Andrew: Christmas is a time we all get drunk together.
    – TonyK
    Commented Aug 16, 2018 at 20:42
  • @TonyK ah, nice one. Although I would probably use the time instead of a time.
    – Andrew
    Commented Aug 17, 2018 at 0:29
  • @Andrew: Yes, for those of you who only get drunk once a year.
    – TonyK
    Commented Aug 18, 2018 at 15:51

2 Answers 2


Christmas is a time (when) there are many parties.

The relative clause has its own subject, "there", so there is no grammatical reason why you cannot drop "when" to give a 'bare' relative.

Admittedly, some people feel uncomfortable dropping "when". This is probably motivated by the fact that the subject of the relative clause is the dummy pronoun "there". Compare the (perhaps) more acceptable:

Christmas is a time many people hold festive parties.

  • To this native English speaker, dropping "when" from the first sentence is ungrammatical.
    – TonyK
    Commented Aug 16, 2018 at 20:44
  • I think this answer should be accepted. We definitely can take away when.
    – a.toraby
    Commented Oct 31, 2018 at 19:13

Generally, when is not a conjunction that can be omitted, as is common with who, which or that. Perhaps that's where you're getting the idea.

Here's an example using that, which shows the rule about the relative clause having a subject. We can say all of these:

The water that I drank was cold.
The water I drank was cold.
I drank the water that was cold.

But we can't say this:

I drank the water was cold.

This is because the meaning of the first sentence is clear without that, due to the presence of the subject I. It isn't clear with the third sentence if you leave out that.

For a very nice complete explanation from our sister site english.stackexchange.com, see this.

  • It does not have anything to do with that or which. You can remove the pronoun if it is the object of the relative clause. You can remove that from the first sentence because it is the object of the verb "drink". But in the third sentence, there is no object for the dependent clause at all.
    – a.toraby
    Commented Oct 31, 2018 at 19:24

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