Adjective Clauses That Describe Times

17 December 2020

Imagine you want to talk about the time something happened.

Perhaps you want to describe the time you did something important, the night something happened or the day something took place.

In today's Everyday Grammar, we will explore one useful way to describe time: adjective clauses.

Let's begin with a few important terms and ideas.


Clauses are groups of words that have a subject and a predicate. Clauses can stand alone as sentences, or they can play a part in a larger sentence.

Consider this statement:

I love English grammar.

The subject is I and the predicate is love English grammar.

Adjective clauses, also called relative clauses, act like adjectives in a sentence. In other words, these clauses modify, or give further information about, a noun.

Consider this example:

This is the song that I heard last night.

The adjective clause is that I heard last night. It gives more information about the noun song.

Adjective clauses have many uses. They can help describe places, reasons, times and more.

In some cases, words such as that, who, where or when begin adjective clauses. But in other cases, English speakers leave out these words.

Let's examine how English speakers use adjective clauses to describe times.

There are two common ways that you should know about: noun of time + ______ [nothing] and noun of time + when.*

We will look at both of these in greater detail.

#1 Noun of time + _____________

Our first structure is noun of time + ______ [nothing]. In other words, no special term begins the adjective clause.

Consider these words by The Monkees.

On the day we fall in love!

You and me

On the day we fall in love.

You'll see!

In the example, the noun of time is the word day. The adjective clause is we fall in love. We is the subject of the clause, and fall in love is the predicate.

Note that there were no special words such as that or when at the beginning of the adjective clause.

Let's consider another example.

Imagine an American family is running late to a holiday dinner. When they arrive, they find that all of the sweets have already been eaten. They might say,

They had eaten all of the desserts by the time we arrived! Can you believe that?

In our example, the noun of time is the word time.

The adjective clause is the words we arrived.

#2 Noun of time + when

Our second structure is noun of time + when.

The word when, a relative adverb, begins the adjective clause.

Consider these words from John Anderson:

There was a time when I was alone I was alright by myself

In the example, the noun of time is the word time. The word when begins the adjective clause. I is the subject of that clause, and was alone is the predicate.

Closing thoughts

There are not really strict rules about when to use special words to begin adjective clauses. Try listening to Americans speak in films or news reports, and keep note of how these speakers use adjective clauses to describe times. Then try to use those structures when you practice speaking.

Let's finish our report with a quiz. Listen to these lines from Chris and Morgane Stapleton.

From the moment you wake me up

‘til you kiss me goodnight

Everything that you do

It makes me want more of you.

Can you tell where the noun of time is? Can you tell where the adjective clause is? Write us in the comments section of our website,

I'm John Russell.

*Conrad, Susan and Biber, Douglas. Real Grammar: A Corpus-Based Approach to English. Pearson Education, 2009 pg. 124 _____________________________________________________________

Words in This Story

predicate - n. grammar: the part of a sentence that expresses what is said about the subject

dessert -- n. sweet food eaten after the main part of a meal

adverb – n. a word that describes a verb, an adjective, another adverb, or a sentence and that is often used to show time, manner, place, or degree practice – v. to do something again and again in order to become better at it