When he was attacked by a tiger, he ran away

When being attacked by a tiger, he ran away

When attacked by a tiger, he ran away

In these three sentences, what part of speech is "when"?

  • Have you consulted a good learner's dictionary? What does it say? What part of speech do you think it is?
    – Catija
    Jul 28, 2016 at 16:43

1 Answer 1


When is used a subordinate conjunction in in all of you examples, which introduces a subordinate clause.

1.When he was attacked by a tiger, he ran away.

2.When (he was) being attacked by a tiger, he ran away.

3.When (he was) attacked by a tiger, he ran away.

In the sentence 2 and 3, the subject and linking verb can be omitted, which is normal for a few subordinate conjunctions. These clauses with no subject and no linking verb is called verbless clause. The most usual subordinative conjunctions introducing a verbless clause are listed in CGEL (1985, p. 1003): although, though, as though, as if, as soon as, if, even if, even though, unless, once, when(ever), while, whilst, where, wherever, whether...or...):


Although younger than Hartmann, she had always had a grown-up air...

He just stood there, as if totally unaware of what was going on.

When only three, she started to read.

Whether a verbless clause is a subordinate clause that follows a subordinate conjunction or not does not affect the part of speech of "when" as a subordinate conjunction.

Here is another helpful link. You must locate 6.Elliptical Clauses

  • I wouldn't say the adjuncts in 2) and 3) are verbless. The subordinate clauses are 'bare' passives, the kind that lack the passive auxiliary verbs "be" and "get". Bare passives (usually) have no subject and because the verb is in the past participle form, such clauses are always non-finite. I wouldn't analyse them as elliptical clauses any more than I would any other non-finite clause.
    – BillJ
    Jul 28, 2016 at 20:03
  • @BillJ Elliptical Clause is a term devised by the author of the website who was unaware of existence of verbless clause. On the aspect of verbless clauses, I'm just following CGEL.
    – whitedevil
    Jul 28, 2016 at 22:34
  • @whitedevil If that is so, the blogger Warsaw Will ought to be rather famous for devising a term that is so widely used, as this search seems to indicate. I wonder how old Mr Will is? I've heard the term for decades... Jul 29, 2016 at 3:34
  • @P.E.Dant Oh, my mistake. I read it again, and what he meant is that he does not know the specific term for the subordinate verbless clauses introduced above, and that he thinks these verbless clauses make good candidates for the Elliptical Clause category. Thank you for pointing that out :)
    – whitedevil
    Jul 29, 2016 at 4:49
  • Your emoticon is first water. Jul 29, 2016 at 4:57

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