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This award (was given to me) was when I was in the fourth grade.

This movie (was released) was when X was the most popular guy in the industry.

Are these two expressions without the parenthesized phrase idiomatic? If yes, is there any difference between the one with and the one without parenthesized text?

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    I have no problem with the second sentence in either form, but the first sentence sounds "off" without the parenthetical statement. I'd word it as: This award is from when I was in the fourth grade. – J.R. Aug 11 '13 at 18:35
  • @J.R. "This movie was when..." definitely sounds off to me, personally. The movie was what, when [x]? I feel like both sentences need the parenthetical element and to remove the second was; that is, "This award was given to me when..." and "This movie was released when..." Thoughts? – WendiKidd Aug 11 '13 at 19:09
  • @Wendi: Yes, or "This movie was from when…" where "from" is short for "from the era when…" I think I misread the original when I made my opening remark. – J.R. Aug 11 '13 at 21:07
  • @WendiKidd But you can say "the tragedy was when […]." Indeed, replacing tragedy with movie doesn't make the sentence sound correct. – kiamlaluno Aug 11 '13 at 22:45
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Neither of these is idiomatic, either with or without the text in parentheses.

When [CLAUSE] is an expression of time. It has two uses:

  1. As an adverbial it modifies a verb or clause, and there has to be a verb or clause for it to modify:

    [Main clause]         [when CLAUSE].
    [This award was given to me] [when I was in the fourth grade].
    [This movie was released]   [when X was the most popular guy in the industry].

    Note that there is no was linking the two clauses. The WHEN-clause is a subordinate adjunct which modifies the sentence.

  2. As a free relative clause it acts as a [Noun Phrase]. It may be used as a predicate complement with BE, but the subject has to be something which can be a time expression: a date, or a (dateable) occasion.

    [Occasion]              was [when CLAUSE].
    [The highlight of my academic career] was [when I was in the fourth grade].
    [1992]                was [when X was the most popular guy in the industry].

    The WHEN-clause is a constituent of the sentence.

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