When-Clauses and Temporal Structure

When-Clauses and Temporal Structure

When-Clauses and Temporal Structure

When-Clauses and Temporal Structure


Tense is one of the central issues of linguistics, and has been the focus of much attention in recent years. In this book, Declerck offers a detailed discussion of the temporal structures that are expressed by the combination of tense forms with the conjunction when .


The main purpose of this book is to investigate how situations are located in time in sentences involving a head clause (henceforth: HC) and a when-clause (henceforth: WC). It offers a detailed discussion of the tense system(s) used in such sentences, as well as the role played by temporal adverbials.

As we will see, there are many different types of WC, and there is quite a number of temporal structures that can be expressed in a complex sentence involving a WC. Because of this, WCs are particularly interesting if one wants to get a better insight into the English tense system. They therefore seemed a natural choice when I was looking for a possibility of putting the model of the English tense system I had presented in Declerck (1991a) to the test.

Apart from this, WCs constitute an interesting topic in themselves, because they can be used in many different ways. This will be clear from Chapter 2, which presents a rich typology of WCs on the basis of their syntactic, semantic and functional characteristics. It will be shown there that WCs can be used not only as 'canonical WCs' (as in I was there when he left) but also as 'narrative WCs' (e.g. We had hardly left the house when it started to rain), nominal (free relative) WCs, WCs used as restrictive or nonrestrictive relative clauses, atemporal WCs, etc. As will be illustrated in Chapter 2 and more fully investigated in Chapter 11, this typology is not only interesting in itself but proves relevant to the use of the tenses in WCs, since there is a high degree of correlation between the various types of WC and the particular tense choices that can or must be made.

The general structure of the book is as follows. As already said, the present introductory chapter is followed by a chapter presenting a typology of WCs. In Chapter 3 I will have a closer look at what is generally known as the 'temporal conjunction' when. I will present evidence, both synchronic and diachronic, that this 'conjunction' is really a free relative with an adverbial function, which is interpreted as 'at the time at which'. This claim is important, as it forms the basis

1 I will use the term 'situation' as a cover-term for anything that can be described by a clause (viz. an action, state, event or process). Since the linguistic expression of a situation is a clause, I will treat sentences consisting of several clauses as describing more than one situation.

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.