Definition of when in English:


interrogative adverb

  • 1At what time.

    ‘when did you last see him?’
    with preposition ‘since when have you been interested?’
    • ‘Although there are a number of ways to predict when this is, they are not entirely reliable.’
    • ‘He said it was expected to be reopened to pedestrians today but it was not yet clear when it would open to traffic.’
    • ‘We don't know when the pub will reopen, although we hope it will be as soon as possible.’
    • ‘You have to learn when your Tamagotchi needs food, when it needs to sleep, when it wakes up.’
    • ‘This is as well as not knowing when they will arrive.’
    • ‘So has Paul, and we were trying to work out in the changing room when we'd each last been.’
    • ‘He would not discuss when or how the information was given to him.’
    1. 1.1 How soon.
      ‘when can I see you?’
      • ‘When can I see you?’
    2. 1.2 In what circumstances.
      ‘when would such a rule be justifiable?’
      • ‘When will we meet again?’
      • ‘I was moving to Dublin and nobody was going to tell me when and where to smoke.’

relative adverb

  • At or on which (referring to a time or circumstance)

    ‘Saturday is the day when I get my hair done’
    • ‘It's that time of year when gimmicky wines with daft labels burst upon us in the supermarkets.’
    • ‘Falls are most common in the summer, when people sleep outside on their roofs to keep cool.’
    • ‘She has literally waited for the minute when we turned our backs and seized the moment.’
    • ‘There are moments when Caribbean winds, normally an elixir, get a bit out of hand.’
    • ‘I'm still sure that one of the finest days in his life was when they opened a kebab machine in the Union.’
    • ‘We must not return to the days when former Home Secretaries cut police numbers.’
    • ‘There are times when although there are no absolute values you simply have to act as though there are.’
    • ‘It was best not to provoke them, and others like them, at a time when maximum unity was necessary.’
    • ‘It was a day when global warming showed that it can survive even in the face of a westerly gale.’
    • ‘It is one of those times when outstanding actors have a great time doing a decent film.’
    • ‘There have been times when Given was considered not to be the best keeper at Newcastle.’
    • ‘The day when you could open your windows for fresh air is just a dim memory.’
    • ‘There comes a time in every rich artist's life when they may consider changing careers.’
    • ‘Cancun has shown once again that we are living in a time when great struggles are shaping history.’
    • ‘The days are long past when independent schools were the preserve of Lord Snooty and his pals.’
    • ‘As a matter of fact there were nights when I drove to my sister across town to get ice.’
    • ‘On a day when big stories leapt off the leaderboard, Donald was among the best.’
    • ‘Meopham Tennis Club will be having an open day this Sunday when it will be offering free coaching.’
    • ‘Although we always want things, childhood is the time when we are most insistent.’
    • ‘There were times when he crossed the finish line and found himself hanging out the side, unaware of where he was.’
    as soon as, the moment, the instant, the second, once, when, immediately after
    View synonyms


  • 1At or during the time that.

    ‘I loved maths when I was at school’
    • ‘It was years after these events that I found out my Aunt died in that room when she was only 14.’
    • ‘His dad left when he was very young, although he patched things up before he died.’
    • ‘Now he goes to bed late because he is frightened of nightmares when he sleeps.’
    • ‘His father took him to Tynecastle when he was five, to see a Hearts and Hibs game.’
    • ‘The first time I used a personal shopper was five years ago, when I lived in Toronto.’
    • ‘His father was operating on a cat in the room below when he saw his son hurtle to the ground.’
    • ‘The option is one of three for the three main party leaders to consider when they meet at City Hall.’
    • ‘I'll never forget idly thumbing through a bible in a hotel room when I was a child.’
    • ‘Although for a couple of years when I was a child my whole family decided not to eat meat.’
    • ‘They shared a room when they were on tour and off the field they were big buddies.’
    • ‘That's what my Scottish grandmother told me I needed to do when I was five years old.’
    • ‘Although they cannot see fully yet, they listen intently when we tell them of these things.’
    • ‘He was looking out the front door yesterday when I had it open to feed the hens.’
    • ‘He urged people to keep mobile phones out of sight when not in use, and to use them to make essential calls only.’
    • ‘One survivor said a meeting was being held in an upstairs room when the blast occurred.’
    • ‘In the early days after the birth, it can be useful to set aside some time to rest when the baby sleeps.’
    • ‘All too often as adults, we cease to give it any attention or value, except at night when we sleep and we dream.’
    • ‘Theatre is her first love and when she is not performing she can invariably be found among the audience.’
    • ‘He told police that he used it because it helped him sleep when he was coming off heroin.’
    • ‘The man's whole life should have been considered when the decision was made to give the award out.’
    1. 1.1 After.
      ‘call me when you've finished’
      • ‘He once sneaked into the woman's home while she was sleeping, only fleeing when she woke up.’
      • ‘We are going to make her a book-nook in her room when we move and this cushion is a good start.’
      • ‘In retrospect, I wish I'd got someone at the other end of the room to call me when he set off.’
      • ‘A representative of the team paid a visit to the shop when it opened in the week before Christmas.’
      • ‘Louise Welsh faced facts when she left Glasgow University with a degree in history.’
      • ‘David had to postpone any college plans he may have had when his uncle died suddenly.’
      • ‘The chief safety scientist of American phone companies was sacked when he found out too much.’
      • ‘Already we've had a lot of people in asking about Nemos, and when the film opens that will triple.’
      • ‘Ideally, you start it when you arrive, and you finish sometime before you go on stage to show it.’
      • ‘I said when I arrived here on Wednesday night that I felt the hand of history upon us.’
      • ‘We got a couple of tickets out to the middle of nowhere and boarded the train when it arrived.’
      • ‘Central banks last night said that they were ready to offer liquidity when markets open today.’
      • ‘Perhaps the first thing I see when I open my curtains will make the decision for me.’
      • ‘I took them round a present and a card not long ago when the new baby arrived.’
      • ‘I was fed up of having to avoid certain foods and when I finished the chicken I felt guilty.’
      • ‘There was silence in the room when she finished her description of her trip to Africa.’
      • ‘Demophoon and Phyllis fell in love when his ship was washed ashore in a storm.’
      • ‘It is much needed because where are people meant to buy groceries when they finish work or at weekends?’
      • ‘Although we were a little disappointed when it turned out to be the same colour as our long termer!’
      • ‘A colleague found him dead in bed after breaking into his room when he did not turn up for work.’
    2. 1.2 At any time that; whenever.
      ‘can you spare five minutes when it's convenient?’
      • ‘I love it when the web makes you take more notice of things in the real world.’
      • ‘There are certain terms that car manufacturers love to use when pushing their latest wares.’
      • ‘She used to shout at the children when they left the room with it still on.’
      • ‘I have a fund of somewhat boring stories which I tell myself when sleep is slow to come.’
      • ‘I used to love that song when it was played on the old Saturday morning radio programmes for kids.’
      • ‘It is a sad fact that, when it comes to sensitivity to attack, there is no one so sensitive as a journalist.’
      • ‘If grown on a window ledge, it may be necessary to bring the plants into the room at night when there is frost.’
      • ‘It has vanished into the black cyber hole where all blogs go when they're not being noticed.’
      • ‘They seem only ever to get an opposing view when a speaker says something with which they disagree.’
      • ‘You may not know it, but it really does matter where you sleep when you are away from home.’
      • ‘Although I am serious when the situation demands it, I try to be jolly to give people a bit of a lift.’
      • ‘They need, too, to be open when people are inclined to use them, including Sundays.’
      • ‘Opinion is divided on what can be done to keep the roads open when it snows.’
      • ‘The device covers the gap created on a door hinge when it is open and prevents fingers being trapped in the door.’
      • ‘He loved a laugh and when he was in a crowd he was the life and soul of the party.’
      • ‘In fact, when I pass the police station at night the door is always closed and no lights to be seen.’
      • ‘She can smoke as much as she wants when in her room and we get on just fine.’
      • ‘You slept when you could, but you were always awake at first and last light in case of a surprise attack.’
      • ‘It is the policy of the school not to open when the roads are very icy in the interest of safety.’
      • ‘For reasons such as these we must take great care when a particular moral view claims to be Biblical.’
  • 2After which; and just then (implying suddenness)

    ‘he had just drifted off to sleep when the phone rang’
    • ‘It was late in the night, and Jim was just about to drift off to sleep, when Ellen rolled over.’
    • ‘Astor was just about to reclaim his travelling bag and unpack when the phone began to ring.’
    • ‘Tony was in the kitchen sorting out a cup of tea, a tinny and a few snacks when he suddenly became quite excited.’
    • ‘Melanie had been at work in her new job for 15 minutes when the plane hit the north tower.’
    • ‘He was about to dictate into his recorder about the progress of his work when his mobile phone rang.’
    • ‘York matched Wharfedale until the last five minutes when they notched a decisive try.’
    • ‘The helicopter was airborne for only a minute when it started plunging toward the river.’
    • ‘He had been behind the counter for less than two minutes when he thought the stall had been hit by an earthquake.’
    • ‘We were there only minutes when a drug dealer turned up and handed round cannabis.’
    • ‘Devlin just followed her out into his bedroom, when his cell phone started ringing.’
    • ‘The other evening I was moving across our sitting room when I felt to be falling forward.’
    • ‘They had not been gone for five minutes when the discussion of their private lives began.’
    • ‘Owen was about to cross the room to comfort her when there was a knocking on the door.’
    • ‘She was just slipping into the realm of sleep when a slight rustling woke her.’
    • ‘They were considering going scuba diving when the tsunami devastated the coastline.’
    • ‘I had just nodded off to sleep when I was woken up by an almighty crash from their house.’
    • ‘The centre was only open a week when it was forced to close because of dumping on the site.’
    • ‘We had been talking and laughing a great deal for more than half an hour when suddenly the lady burst into tears.’
    • ‘Mr Clark was preparing Sunday lunch when he opened the oven door and a fireball leapt into the air.’
    • ‘I had gone back to check some facts when Angier emerged awkwardly from the bathroom.’
  • 3In view of the fact that; considering that.

    ‘why bother to paint it when you can photograph it with the same effect?’
    • ‘For what chance is there of love when everything you do is monitored as if on CCTV?’
    • ‘There is no room to manoeuvre when the character of a space determines the environment.’
    • ‘I mean who else is there to take up the slack for them, when their fifteen minutes of fame is running out.’
    • ‘Why sleep with that woman when you know it could bring you trouble somewhere down the line?’
    • ‘I am in the fourth year of my own fight, which is considered a long time when you have the kind of cancer I have.’
    • ‘Was it really worth those few minutes of peace when he knew he was slowly killing himself?’
    • ‘Seemingly not, although it does not help when they are not in a position to keep up with the play.’
    • ‘It is fantastic to even consider him when he has not been a pupil for two years.’
    • ‘So why did she look over the glasses to get a good view of me when previously the glasses had done the job?’
    • ‘Where was the body, I used to think, when there is no room between the headstone and the wall?’
    • ‘She didn't think Jamie was the type to sit hiding in some motel room when someone was out to kill him.’
    • ‘Why does Dolan persist in five at the back when it clearly doesn't suit York's style of play?’
    • ‘Can we define terrorism when one man's freedom fighter is another man's terrorist?’
    • ‘How can there be love when you leave me, without warmth and without explanation?’
    • ‘You cannot claim to give the facts straight when there is no-one giving the other view.’
    • ‘I never try to convince my body that it should be sleeping when it knows better.’
    • ‘To rely on a phone call from California when so many lives are at stake is not enough.’
    • ‘It's hard not be cynical about the power of love when there is so much bile around.’
  • 4Although; whereas.

    ‘I'm saying it now when I should have told you long ago’
    • ‘I had this idea of him being loud and brash when in fact he's laidback and quiet with this fantastic wit.’
    • ‘It is easy to ask a very general question when in fact what is wanted is a response to a specific issue.’
    • ‘People could at times be standing at the back when there was room in the front of the train.’
    • ‘I think we fall back too often on our power when in fact we probably could do more by persuasion.’
    • ‘The danger is trying to put your nose through when there is no room and it ends in an accident.’
    • ‘They behaved as if they were in their living room at home, when, clearly they weren't.’
    • ‘I had thought that this wasn't working, when in fact it was only not working in Firefox.’
    • ‘They may it look as though it is a charitable collection when in fact they are going to sell the stuff off.’
    • ‘People were led to believe they had won a top prize when in fact they were being induced to pay for a low value product.’
    • ‘Somehow that statistic came to be portrayed as a bad thing, when in fact it is a heartening trend.’
    • ‘It looks as though it was made at a particular time when in fact it was made 24 hours later.’
    • ‘My flushed cheeks illustrated my shyness, when in fact it was sheer frustration.’


Old English hwanne, hwenne; of Germanic origin; related to German wenn ‘if’, wann ‘when’.