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I was sad for my country back then when I could see no Afghan athletes in the opening ceremony.


In this sentence, what is part of speech of 'when'? Is it a relative modifying 'back then' which is a noun, or is it a conjunction leading a subordinate clause?

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It is a subordinator, a conjunction.

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I was sad for my country back then [ when I could see no Afghan athletes in the opening ceremony ].


Traditional grammar treats this "when" as a subordinating conjunction. But forget that for a moment.

In modern grammar, the analysis of the bracketed expression is in fact quite problematic. One solution is to treat it as a PP (preposition phrase), with a prep (when) as head and the underlined subordinate content clause as complement. This would be my preferred approach.

Whichever analysis is preferred, the function of the bracketed element is that of temporal adjunct. Here's a link to an enlightened dictionary for the part of speech of "when":

https://simple.wiktionary.org/wiki/when

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Comments  

Is it because 'then' in the sentence is an adverb?

Blooming Jenny

Is it because 'then' in the sentence is an adverb?

They are independent of each other. As you can see when either is removed, the sentence is fine.

I was sad for my country back then.
I was sad for my country when I could see no Afghan athletes in the opening ceremony.

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 BillJ's reply was promoted to an answer.

Thank you for your explanation! Emotion: smile)

I didn't know that 'when' can be regarded as a preposition. Thank you for helping me! Emotion: smile

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