Is the word "when" a conjunction in:

I was going to call you when I got home.

If it's a conjunction I suppose "when" is usually reduced, what I mean by that is that the vowel in the word "when" is pronounced with a schwa sound. I said usually because I know stress can be shifted for special emphasis. Am I right?

  • I've edited the sentence you are asking about in the body of the question to match the title, because I figured it was a typo of a sort; if I was mistaken, please roll back to your previous version :-).
    – Lucky
    Jul 24, 2015 at 5:08

4 Answers 4


Though dictionaries often label "when" as an adverb (So in Oald), the Oxford Guide to English Grammar by John Eastwood says:

We form an adverbial clause of time with a conjunction, eg

  • Mozart could write music when he was only five. (Paragraph 250)

By the way, you can download this grammar. For more information on this grammar Link


I was going to call you when I got home.

In the sentence according to the modern grammar when is a preposition. Except a few, modern grammar classifies as preposition all the words that tradition grammar calls subordinating conjunction or simply subordinator. They argue that like verb why a preposition can't take a declarative clause.

A verb as a head can take a NP as complement.

He hit him. [The verb - hit - takes NP - him - as a complement]

But a verb as head can also take a declarative clause as complement, but then grammarians don't call them something else other than a verb.

I remember you promised to help. [The verb - remember - takes a declarative clause - you promised to help - as a complement]

So if a verb is called a verb regardless whether it takes a NP or a declarative clause as complement, then why a preposition to be called a conjunction if it takes a declarative clause as complement. Hence modern grammarians decided to call it a preposition even if they take declarative clause (though they call if, whether etc subordinator).

I was going to call you when I got home.

If we try to explain the POS of when from the point of view of traditional grammar, it's a conjunction, a subordinating conjunction that is. Because it connects two clause.

  • Neither conjunctions nor prepositions are defined by whether they take a declarative clause as a complement or not. They are defined by their function in the sentence: conjunctions link clauses and prepositions describe spatial or temporal relationships between phrases. They are completely different. Jul 21, 2016 at 4:58
  • @RoaringFish So what are you going to call this when? And how to identify the function of when without taking into consideration what complement it takes? Jul 21, 2016 at 15:23
  • The complement is immaterial. All you need is to be able to distinguish a phrase describing a location from a subordinating clause that doesn't. If you are going to maintain that when in the OP sentence is a preposition, you need to say how it functions as a preposition. It would also help if you gave specifics about all these 'modern grammarians' that you say now classify subordinating conjunctions as prepositions. Jul 21, 2016 at 16:07
  • @RoaringFish Well, for that I first need to know if you consider these two to be different: when take a a declarative clause as complement and when introduces a subordinate clause? Jul 21, 2016 at 16:16
  • 1
    @RoaringFish Given that adverbs don't generally take content clauses as complements and that there are only five subordinators commonly recognised in grammars such as OMEG, CaGEL, ASIEG and so forth and that when ain't one of those five and that when is only recognised as a preposition in those grammars, I don't think MFI needs to justify very much here. Jul 22, 2016 at 18:47

No, it is not a conjunction. Here 'when' is an adverb.

I was going to call you when I got home.

Take for instance the below segment of the sentence:

I was going to call you.

Okay when?

When I got home.

An Adverb is a word that describes or adds more meaning to a verb. Call is the verb here and when is an Adverb of Time.

  • Thanks. In that case "when" is a content word and it's most likely pronounced with a clear /ɛ/ vowel sound. Am I right? May I ask one more question. Is the verb "was" a helping verb in the sentence above? Jul 23, 2015 at 10:59
  • I'm not quite sure with what you are asking about the pronunciation. Although, about the was/am battle. You could either go with 'I'm going to call you when I get home'
    – Caroffrey
    Jul 23, 2015 at 12:14
  • ====Please ignore previous comment==== I'm not quite sure with what you are asking about the pronunciation. Although, about the was/am battle. You could either go with 'I'm going to call you when I get home' or 'I was going to call you when I got home'. Note the change of tense with 'get and got'. The first sentence is a simple future sentence meaning you would call when you get home. But the second is a classic example of Future in Past. See englishpage.com/verbpage/futureinpast.html for more help.
    – Caroffrey
    Jul 23, 2015 at 12:23
  • As far as I know, the only pronunciation when has is /wen/. I don't see why it should change for this context. Refer this
    – Caroffrey
    Jul 23, 2015 at 12:41
  • I'm not sure about that. As a conjunction it's most likely reduced and pronounced with a schwa vowel as long as stress is not shifted for special emphasis. From dictionary.com /ʰwɛn, wɛn; unstressed ʰwən, wən/ dictionary.reference.com/browse/when?s=t but if it's an adverb it most likely pronounced with the /ɛ/ vowel because content words are usually not reduced. Jul 23, 2015 at 12:54

It is a conjunction. Two things happen in the example sentence: first arrive home, and then call, refered to in two clauses and the when connects them.

However, it is a subordinating conjunction (sometimes called a "trigger word") introducing an adverbial clause, and on the principle that words introducing new information take a strong pronunciation the vowel is not reduced to a schwa.

As, when and while are conjunctions. In some uses as, when and while can mean the same, but they can also have slightly different meanings. We use them to introduce subordinate clauses.(From Cambridge "English Grammar Today")

A conjunction (also called a connective) is a word such as and, because, but, for, if, or, and when. Conjunctions are used to connect phrases, clauses, and sentences. (From Oxford Dictionary)

In English, there are lots of subordinating conjunctions, but the most common ones, along with a few examples of how subordinating conjunctions are used, are as follows:

when - “When I see you smile, I can face the world” (From Your Dictionary)

As well as the coordinating conjunctions noted and explained above, there is a whole raft of subordinating conjunctions. Some of them are: ... when .... (From Bristol University Improve Your Writing)

Subordinating conjunctions are used to join independent clauses to make complex sentences. The subordinating conjunctions are as follows: after, although, as, as if, because, before, even if, even though, if, if only, rather than, since, that, though, unless, until, when, where, whereas, wherever, whether, which, and while. (From Purdue OWL)

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