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I came across this sentence while watching a TV show on time travel:

I want you to go and see me when I was a sophomore in high school.

In this, the speaker is asking somebody to go back in time.


However, if I put the dependent clause at the start:

When I was a sophomore in high school, I want you to go and see me.

The meaning has clearly changed by moving the dependent clause to the start, as it doesn't refer to time travel anymore - it now simply refers to a wish that the speaker had when he was in high school.

Is this expected or am I overanalyzing? I'm wondering if there is a way to reorder this complex sentence without changing its meaning.

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    Your second sentence would mean what you explained if it said "When I was a sophomore in high school, I wanted you to go and see me." – Tushar Raj Dec 22 '18 at 5:55
  • Ah, that settles it! Since the independent clause is in present tense, and the dependent clause is in past tense, the overall structure still refers to time travel. Thank you :) – AgentS Dec 22 '18 at 6:04
  • @TusharRaj If you converted above comment to answer, I'd love to mark it best :) – AgentS Dec 22 '18 at 6:05
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    Your second sentence would make sense in context—and if it were rephrased slightly. "When did you say you wanted me to see you?" "When I was a sophomore in high school—I want you to go and see me then." – Jason Bassford Dec 22 '18 at 6:10
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When I was a sophomore in high school, I want you to go and see me.

This sentence, while sounding ususual syntax-wise, doesn't really change the meaning. Compare it to the following pair that mirrors the structure but doesn't involve time travel:

A: I should've opened a savings account when I was in college.

B: When I was in college, I should've opened a savings account.

Notice the subtle change in emphasis brought about by B, which is somewhat inapplicable in your second sentence, which is why it sounds a little unusual. It can be hard for us to parse a sentence keeping a time-travel interpretation open, because it's something we do very rarely. That is why in fiction they generally take the simplest structure possible, unless a deliberate confusion is desired for comedic effects.

Your inference about expressing a wish would be accurate if the second sentence said:

When I was a sophomore in high school, I wanted you to go and see me.

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