1. I remember when he left the room.
  2. I remember when she was young.

The first sentence is probably talking about the time when he left, but when you asked a question like the second one, you would not answer like 5 years ago.

I feel a bit weird in terms of the grammar. Maybe some words are omitted between remember and when like "I remember the day when she was young. And the sentence may be informal.

Can anyone explain the usages with the grammar?

  • I can't find a good grammar reference, but those sentences can only distinguish the different meanings of when by context - I remember when he left the room can mean both "I remember at what time he left" and "I have a memory of him leaving". Mar 9, 2021 at 3:18
  • 1
    Both those sentences are fine - neither of them omit words. When is being used in two different ways. The first sentence refers to a exact moment. The second refers to a large span of time. The first is precise. The second is not. Mar 9, 2021 at 4:03

1 Answer 1


Remember is a bit of a tricky verb. It can be a reporting verb, in which case the when is a part of the reported speech structure - I remember when he left the room is akin to sentences like I said that he was sleeping or I know when he left.

But most reporting verbs either only link with that and not wh- clauses, do not have usages which take a direct object, or have effectively the same meaning in both cases. Remember does take a direct object, and as you've noted the meaning differs slightly - which causes problems when the entire wh- clause can be interpreted as a noun phrase.

So if you say I remember when he left the room, it's ambiguous whether you're using remember in the direct-object meaning ("to have a memory of"), or as a reporting verb ("to know based on memory"). If you interpret when he left the room as a noun phrase, it's the former - if you link when to remember and treat the sentence as reported speech, it's the latter.

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