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First of all I'm not even sure if the sentence I'm using as an example is correctly formulated. Even a seach for "I was at the church last Sunday" on Google gave me only three results so I think it's not very usual, maybe even wrong, but I don't know a better way to say it.

Ok, here's my question. I'm trying to say three different things using only one phrase. They are...

  1. I went to the church last Sunday and I went by myself - nobody wanted to go with me.

  2. There were many other people inside the church.

  3. At some point a big explosion occurred outside and everybody inside the church heard it. Of course I didn't check that with each person inside the church... I'm just assuming everybody heard it because it was a very loud explosion.

I'm trying to put all that in a single phrase but I'm having a hard time doing that. My first attempt was...

"I was at the church last Sunday when we heard the sound of a big explosion coming from the outside".

This usage of "I and "we" in the same phrase didn't sound good to me (although I'm not sure if it's possible or not). So I tried another one...

"I was at the church last Sunday when I heard the sound of a big explosion coming from the outside".

This phrase sounds fine except for the fact that it gives the impression that I was alone in the church - which isn't true. So I tried this new one...

"I was at the church last Sunday when a big explosion was heard coming from the outside".

This one sounds little better although it doesn't make it clear that there were other people in the church besides me.

It looks like it should be something very easy to be said but I just don't know how. Could someone help me with this one?

  • 1
    Perhaps "When I was at [the] church last Sunday there was a big explosion outside." – Weather Vane Jun 22 at 18:18
  • You should not waste your time googling sentences like: I was at [some place] last [period of time or day]. You are better off for those, using Word grammar. "I was at [place] last Sunday when x happened" is 100% fine. – Lambie Jun 22 at 21:21
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First of all, it would probably be simpler if you left it as multiple sentences. However, if you're set on not doing so, you could try something like the following:

When I went to church last Sunday, a large explosion that occurred outside was heard by me and everybody else inside.

Note that the main clause of the sentence has been turned into a passive construction so that me and everybody else can be used.


I don't think it would sound as good, but it is possible to keep the active voice and use both I and we:

When I was at church last Sunday with the regular parishioners, we all heard a large explosion from outside.

This mix of I and we doesn't sound so strange in the single sentence because you introduce the other people (the regular parishioners) before using the plural pronoun.

  • Thanks a lot for the suggestions, Jason. I think both alternatives are great although in this particular case I'll stick with the second one since it uses both the I and we. Please allow me to ask you some other so I can make sure I wasn't at the wrong path since the beginning: is it possible to start a phrase like I did, saying something like "I was at the church last Sunday when..." or "I was at the office last Monday when...". As a Portuguese speaker they sound pretty natural to me but maybe they simply don't sound so natural in English. Thanks again. – Itamar Jun 22 at 20:32
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    @Itamar There's no problem starting a sentence with I was at the church last Sunday when. The only reason I didn't do so in my own sentences is because I was trying to make it sound natural along with everything else. That kind of a start followed up by the rest of the information you needed would have sounded odd. But—barring that additional requirement—such a start is just fine with more typical sentences. – Jason Bassford Jun 22 at 20:55
  • Thanks a million, Jason... as I said your tips and suggestions were great and I'll be using them as starting points to build similar phrases and try to really memorize them for future use. Since the beginning I wasn't sure if I could begin the phrase the way I did so thank you to clarifying that to me also. – Itamar Jun 22 at 21:06
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    Just a minor nitpick, but I was taught by many different sources exclusively that when including oneself in a group of others when speaking, the personal pronoun should always be spoken after naming the group, i.e. "everybody inside, including me" instead of "me and everybody else inside". Though this is such a nonstandard case and the alternate phrasing requires slightly more than simply rearranging the words I can see why it might not really be an issue here to some. However, "heard by me" doesn't really work IMHO without "everybody [else]" so I think the "rule" is still applicable. – Darren Ringer Jun 23 at 17:37
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    @DarrenRinger It's convention to say you and I, but that's only to put yourself last out of politeness. In reality, the pronouns can go in whatever order you like. Also, the explosion was heard by me works just fine as a sentence on its own without mentioning anybody else. (The explosion was heard by I wouldn't work.) – Jason Bassford Jun 23 at 17:42
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First of all, to address your point #2 (that there were many other people in the church), we usually use the expressions, "I was in church", or "I went to church" (no article) when you mean that you were attending a worship service. "I was at the church" is just a statement of location. You were at a particular church (not even necessarily inside the building.)

So if you start out with "I went to church/was in church ..., it implies there were many other people there with you.

Also, there is nothing wrong with saying, "I was [xxx], when we [yyy]"

Coordinating two clauses into one sentence is fine even when each clause has a different subject.

People will understand from context that "you" were in the church, and the "we" that heard the explosion were other people in the church. Whether absolutely all of those people heard the explosion is a minor point not addressed by the choice of "we", and it doesn't need to be. If it was a big explosion, we figure most of the parishioners heard it.

So I think you could convey your meaning with a fairly simple sentence as follows:

"I was in church last Sunday when we heard the sound of a big explosion coming from outside".

If it is important to specify that you went to the service by yourself, you could include that information explicitly as well:

If you start out your sentence,

"I went by myself to church last Sunday when ...

It sounds a little bit like the explosion happened as you were going there, so it might be better to say:

"I went by myself to church last Sunday, and during the service we heard the sound of a big explosion coming from outside."

  • Thanks a lot, Lorel. The examples you provided definitely made everything even more clear to me. Also, the explanation about the difference between "I was in church / I went to church" and "I was at the church" was really helpful. – Itamar Jun 22 at 22:08
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    You've also improved the sentence by removing "the" immediately before "outside". – CJ Dennis Jun 23 at 3:51
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The purpose of language is communication. The key question here is who you are communicating with.

If your readers or listeners are familiar with Western culture, when you say "I went to church last Sunday" they already know that (1) Sunday is the main day each week when religious ceremonies takes place in churches (2) These ceremonies involve a group of people who travel to and from the church independently.

As such, the most likely assumption is that you went to attend a Church service, and the word "we" refers to the other attendees. Of course that assumption might be wrong - for example you might have gone several hours before the service, to start up the heating system or do the flower arrangements!

In the second sentence, using "I" simply implies you are telling your personal experience of what happened. Whether there were other people in the church or not is not important to what you are communicating.

In the third sentence, I think the passive "a big explosion was heard" implies it was heard by more than one person.

All three sentences are fine. The only possible problem with the first sentence is if you are communicating with people who have no knowledge of what a church is and what happens in churches on Sundays. For them, it is obvious from the first part of the sentence that "church" denotes some place that you went to, but nothing more than that - they don't have any *background knowledge" about who the people referred to as "we" are, and why they are in the same place as you.

  • Thanks a lot for sharing all this valuable information... I'm learning a lot. – Itamar Jun 24 at 1:42
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Another option to specify who is meant by "we", which sounds quite natural to me, would be

I was at church last Sunday when the whole congregation heard the sound of a big explosion coming from outside.

  • Hi. That's really helpful. Thanks a lot for sharing. – Itamar Jun 24 at 1:43

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