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He knew that when the sun set, he would see the moon rise.

Here we have a 'that' clause (a type of noun clause) acting as a matrix clause (as clauses can). In this example, the addition of a fronted subordinate clause seems awkward. The comma placement disrupts the entire flow of the sentence, yet my knowledge of comma placement makes me hesitant to remove it (it's too long). As such, that makes me question whether a subordinate clause should ever be fronted to begin with in these types of noun clauses. It's common in spoken English, but it seems wrong when written down.

An alternative would be this:

He knew that he would see the moon rise when the sun set.

This reads well, so should certain fronted subordinate clauses be avoided? Is this an awkwardness that is especially present in noun clauses?

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  • An adverb phrase (or clause) in a tensed clause can be moved (including fronting), whether the clause is subordinate or not. The rules for adverb movement, however, are very complex. Oct 7, 2021 at 22:34
  • Very well. I'm assuming that it's too complex to summarise as an answer, so please could you confirm whether the first sentence is grammatically sound?
    – MJ Ada
    Oct 11, 2021 at 14:02

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