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.’
    • ‘You have to learn when your Tamagotchi needs food, when it needs to sleep, when it wakes up.’
    • ‘So has Paul, and we were trying to work out in the changing room when we'd each last been.’
    • ‘He said it was expected to be reopened to pedestrians today but it was not yet clear when it would open to traffic.’
    • ‘He would not discuss when or how the information was given to him.’
    • ‘This is as well as not knowing when they will arrive.’
    • ‘We don't know when the pub will reopen, although we hope it will be as soon as possible.’
    1. 1.1How soon.
      ‘when can I see you?’
      • ‘When can I see you?’
    2. 1.2In 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’
    • ‘The days are long past when independent schools were the preserve of Lord Snooty and his pals.’
    • ‘There are moments when Caribbean winds, normally an elixir, get a bit out of hand.’
    • ‘Although we always want things, childhood is the time when we are most insistent.’
    • ‘It is one of those times when outstanding actors have a great time doing a decent film.’
    • ‘There comes a time in every rich artist's life when they may consider changing careers.’
    • ‘There are times when although there are no absolute values you simply have to act as though there are.’
    • ‘Cancun has shown once again that we are living in a time when great struggles are shaping history.’
    • ‘We must not return to the days when former Home Secretaries cut police numbers.’
    • ‘It was a day when global warming showed that it can survive even in the face of a westerly gale.’
    • ‘It's that time of year when gimmicky wines with daft labels burst upon us in the supermarkets.’
    • ‘There were times when he crossed the finish line and found himself hanging out the side, unaware of where he was.’
    • ‘There have been times when Given was considered not to be the best keeper at Newcastle.’
    • ‘As a matter of fact there were nights when I drove to my sister across town to get ice.’
    • ‘The day when you could open your windows for fresh air is just a dim memory.’
    • ‘Meopham Tennis Club will be having an open day this Sunday when it will be offering free coaching.’
    • ‘It was best not to provoke them, and others like them, at a time when maximum unity was necessary.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘I'm still sure that one of the finest days in his life was when they opened a kebab machine in the Union.’
    • ‘On a day when big stories leapt off the leaderboard, Donald was among the best.’


  • 1At or during the time that.

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

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

    ‘why bother to paint it when you can photograph it with the same effect?’
    • ‘To rely on a phone call from California when so many lives are at stake is not enough.’
    • ‘For what chance is there of love when everything you do is monitored as if on CCTV?’
    • ‘Was it really worth those few minutes of peace when he knew he was slowly killing himself?’
    • ‘She didn't think Jamie was the type to sit hiding in some motel room when someone was out to kill him.’
    • ‘Where was the body, I used to think, when there is no room between the headstone and the wall?’
    • ‘So why did she look over the glasses to get a good view of me when previously the glasses had done the job?’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘Seemingly not, although it does not help when they are not in a position to keep up with the play.’
    • ‘I never try to convince my body that it should be sleeping when it knows better.’
    • ‘I mean who else is there to take up the slack for them, when their fifteen minutes of fame is running out.’
    • ‘Why does Dolan persist in five at the back when it clearly doesn't suit York's style of play?’
    • ‘There is no room to manoeuvre when the character of a space determines the environment.’
    • ‘Why sleep with that woman when you know it could bring you trouble somewhere down the line?’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘It's hard not be cynical about the power of love when there is so much bile around.’
    • ‘Can we define terrorism when one man's freedom fighter is another man's terrorist?’
    • ‘It is fantastic to even consider him when he has not been a pupil for two years.’
  • 4Although; whereas.

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


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