Why is "when" a conjunction and not a relative adverb

Discussion in 'English Only' started by sesquipedalianame, Apr 22, 2011.

  1. sesquipedalianame New Member

    HOW, WHERE, and WHEN can be relative adverbs according to Oxford. What I don't understand is the following:
    "How" is a relative adverb=in any way in which e.g. I'll do business how I like.
    "Where" is a relative adverb=in a or any place in which e.g. Sit where I can see you.

    Why is "when" a conjunction when it means at the time that? e.g. I loved math when I was in school.

    These are definitions and examples from New Oxford American Dictionary. Is "when" a conjunction because it is not uncommon to see it at the beginning of a sentence (e.g. When I was in school, I loved math)? I would appreciate any theories you may have. Why does Oxford make such distinctions?

    Note: Macmillan Dictionary defines all of the above as conjunctions.
  2. entangledbank

    entangledbank Senior Member

    English - South-East England
    First, if a word is labelled X in a dictionary, that doesn't make it an X. It means the makers of that dictionary had a small number of categories to work with and chose (decided) to put it in one of them. Other people, other dictionaries, might do it differently. It might be hard to decide what a word is in a particular situation.

    Your observation about placing the phrase at the beginning is a good point. That makes the phrase more independent than a relative clause. A relative clause usually strictly hangs on a particular word: in 'the time when I met her', 'when' hangs on 'time' and is therefore a relative marker. This relationship does not hold for 'math(s) when'; here the 'when' is not particularly related to the previous word, only to the entire previous clause 'I loved math(s)'.

    What I've just said above applies more clearly to 'Sit some place where I can see you', in which 'where' is dependent on 'place'. In your actual example, there is no noun phrase 'some place' for it to be dependent on. Rather, the 'where' phrase itself acts as the location phrase for 'sit'. But still, the 'where' is dependent on the location implied in 'sit'. It is implicitly 'sit (somewhere)', and that somewhere is qualified by the relative 'where'.

    In the case of 'how', this is the only possibility. You can't use an explicit noun phrase for it to be relative to: :cross:I'll do business the way how I like. However, the 'how' phrase is still relative to a specific implied way.
  3. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southwest France
    English - England
    That's great, Entangled. Thank you.

    I'm struggling for a conclusion. You are saying that how is unlike the other two; which qualities do when and where possess which how lacks?

    The dictionary singles out when as the exception. Are you saying that is wrong?

    Sorry to be dim.
  4. sesquipedalianame New Member

    Thanks Entangledbank! It's got me thinking about the implied words. You have a point. But "when" and "where" still seem to have the same function. Example: We'll buy a house [(at) some place] where the prices are low. VS. We'll buy a house [(at) some time] when the prices are low.
  5. sesquipedalianame New Member

    I guess I've figured it out. There might be three reasons:
    1. When can join clauses at the beginning of a sentence.
    2. Where and how show how ONE CLAUSE relates to ANOTHER by space or manner. However, when joins clauses that relate to TIME, not to one another.
    3. When can mean and function in the exact same way as while.
    Last edited: Apr 25, 2011

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