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Is this sentence correct?

"we were talking when suddenly we were cut off"

shouldn't it be something like this?

"we were talking then suddenly we were cut off"

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2 Answers 2

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They both make sense, but the second sentence does convey the 'suddenness' better. It's a very slight difference and kind of hard to explain.

Let's start with the SECOND sentence. It's pretty cut and dry - we were talking and then we weren't. I was in the middle of a conversation and then BOOM interrupted. It is a simple cause and effect. The sentence, in comparison with the 'when' sentence, is more focused on the change in state.

On the other hand, the FIRST sentence emphasizes the interruption. It's more of a 'We were having a chat, as we do, it's normal, it's no big deal, it's not the focus of the sentence, I'm just trying to give you some context of what was going on, setting the stage before the meaty part of the sentence.'

Let's look at 2 different stories where this difference becomes a little more apparent.

The WHEN sentence scenario: "So Liz and I were at lunch and you'll never believe what happened to us. We were just catching up, talking about her new baby and whatnot, when suddenly we were cut off by this weird guy wearing a diaper and a giant pacifier trying to get us to hold him in our lap."

vs

The THEN sentence scenario: "So I'm at lunch with Liz trying to figure out how to tell her that I had to take her dog to the vet while she was in the meeting. I'm telling her about how Buster got out of the back gate and this girl in a van is texting while driving and then suddenly I was cut off. How am I supposed to get back to that conversation? 'So, um, anyways, your dog had surgery on a broken leg...' It was really awkward and I had no idea what to do."

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I think both can be used, depending on the surrounding context. For example The first might be seen say in the written case where the author is describing what is happening at that moment, while the second would be seen more when descibring the cutting off as one of a series of events that occurred.

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  • I see but "suddenly" not makes sense in first case!
    – r0ck
    Jul 25, 2019 at 15:49
  • Suddenly, vs say the line slowly fading out, or getting noisy or with lots of background static before the connection failed. Makes sense to me.
    – CrossRoads
    Jul 25, 2019 at 15:53
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    @ r0ck "Suddenly we were cut off" is OK if it happened suddenly. The beginning part of the sentence, "We were talking when ..." describes the ongoing (maybe monotonous, not sudden) background situation that was taking place when the sudden event happened. So it is OK to say "suddenly" in this sentence. It only applies to the event itself, not the background to the event.
    – Lorel C.
    Jul 25, 2019 at 16:09

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