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This sentence is from a husband on an English speaking forum for advice about her wife who has dementia.Dementia and wandering

My wife, 71 has lost all interest in anything other than walking up and down our street. She has wandered on 2 occasions when I had to call the police to find her.

So, if I understood correctly, first, she left the house and then he had to call the police.

But then, why does the husband use "when" instead of "and then"? The use of "when" gives the impression that 2 events were happening at the same time, whereas they weren't. First, she left the house. After that, he called the police.

Is it still ok to use "when" in such events that happened one after the other instead of using "and then"?

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  • You mean his wife. He just means that he had to call the police on two of the occasions that she has wandered away. Dec 18, 2022 at 8:36
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    I mean why does he use the conjuction "When" where he should have used "and then"? Because he did not make the call while she was getting lost. First, she got lost and then he did the calling.
    – Yunus
    Dec 18, 2022 at 8:38
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    It's not necessary to explain the order in which things happened, because that's obvious. We say, for example "Do you remember when we went to London and visited St Paul's Cathedral?", in which when identifies the occasion, it doesn't say anything about which bit happened first. Dec 18, 2022 at 8:47

2 Answers 2

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When in this context means occasions on which I had to call the police. It doesn't refer to the order in which things happened.

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  • That is a very very important point. We have never been taught this at school. We were always taught that if two sentences were connected to each other with "WHEN", then it means they happened at the same time, or one was interrupted by the other. Thanks very much, this is a great contrubition to non-native speakers and learners of English.
    – Yunus
    Dec 18, 2022 at 9:36
  • I can't tell you how happy I feel, because I always encountered this usage of WHEN on the news text. and I had alwyas difficulty in my mind about this usage of "WHEN", because no grammer book cover this and we always learned that WHEN is used in the context of TIME, the order of events. We have never been taught that it is also used in the aspect of OCCASION, which would have solved so many unaswered questions in our mind. Now, it makes very good sense.
    – Yunus
    Dec 18, 2022 at 9:51
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I think this is an understandable, but slightly awkward phrasing. This is natural in spoken English.

The sense of "when" is given in Wiktionary as "at which time". And there are some completely acceptable examples there:

I'm staying until Friday, when I leave for Senegal.

I was walking down the street when it started to rain.

It is this kind of construction that the speaker is using.

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  • Thanks for the answer. What do you think of Kate Bunting's answer "When in this context means doesn't refer to the order in which things happened."
    – Yunus
    Dec 18, 2022 at 9:39
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    I agree that it doesn't refer to order. The "when" clause gives the time information for the main clause. That doesn't quite happen here. The "when" clause gives a consequence. Now I might edit my answer to be a bit more nuanced.
    – James K
    Dec 18, 2022 at 9:48
  • Thanks, I have always admired your great effort to explain things in a detailed way.
    – Yunus
    Dec 18, 2022 at 9:54

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