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What is the difference between these two sentences in meaning?

When going to school, I wore necklaces with starfish pendants."

and

When I went to school, I wore necklaces with starfish pendants."

  • The first is perhaps a bit more formal, but that's about it to me. Both refer to past habits that are no longer engaged in. – Cary C Sep 3 '15 at 12:22
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    "When I was going to school..." and "When I went to school..." are equivalent and refer to when you were younger and in school. "When going to school..." would normally imply the current time and would be expected to be followed by "I wear". – Hot Licks Sep 3 '15 at 12:37
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"When going to school I wore necklaces with starfish pendants." "When I went to school I wore necklaces with starfish pendants."

Speaking as a native British speaker, I instinctively see the difference as follows.

When going to school I wore necklaces with starfish pendants. ---> When travelling to school I wore necklaces with starfish pendants.

When I went to school I wore necklaces with starfish pendants. ---> When I was a schoolchild I wore necklaces with starfish pendants.

My explanation is that they are two different idioms. Notice however that in English, the context for the sentence could make a difference to the meaning.

Note: I can't speak for US English. I imagine it is the same.

  • Yes and no. going can certainly imply traveling/walking, that is, being on the way to school, but "when I was going to school" just like "when I was in school" can refer to one's days as a student. There's more than a little ambiguity. – TRomano Sep 3 '15 at 12:29
  • @TimRomano - Are you also British? I allowed for ambiguity in my last sentence before the Note. – chasly from UK Sep 3 '15 at 12:31
  • No, as my profile clearly indicates, I'm a native speaker of American English. I'm commenting on your remark "I can't speak for US English. I imagine it's the same." They're not two clearly distinct idioms in US English. – TRomano Sep 3 '15 at 12:34
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    I agree this distinction (also BrE). Idiomatically I think I'm more likely to use When I was at school rather than When I went to school, but they would both normally refer to the entire span of my schooldays, not the specific time spent travelling to school (or college, or church, or whatever). – FumbleFingers Sep 3 '15 at 12:36
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    @TimRomano - Okay. That's fine. I think it makes sense to be explicit about your variety of English. I clearly stated I was British even though it's part of my ID. I don't believe we should have to look up your profile. – chasly from UK Sep 3 '15 at 12:38

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