When and How to Use ‘when’ and ‘as’

Exploring a vital part of the Clean Language syntax
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First presented at The Developing Group, 6 December 2004

We often deal with big chunk topics at The Developing Group (e.g. Emergence, Constructivism, Self-Decption, etc.) so this time we’ve decided to focus on a particular part of the Symbolic Modelling process: the use of ‘when/as’.  When and as are one of the primary ways to cleanly invite clients to attend to an aspect of their perception of their metaphor landscape.

On the day we will be investigating how when/as can be used:

  • To enhance the effectiveness of your questions by more precisely directing the client’s attention
  • To specify or frame the context in which the question is ansked
  • In a variety of ways
  • At different times in the process.

In addition, we’ll look at other words that can be used in place of ‘when’ and ’as’ and the effect of using these variations to the standard Clean Language syntax.

Following the introductory notes we’ve designed five skill-developing activities.

In preparation, please consider when and how you already use when/as, and what you seek to achieve when you use these words.

Uses of when

 1.At what time? When is he due?
 2.Over what period?  An age when men were men.
 3.At a time at which; just as; after I found it easy when I tried
 4.Although He drives when he might walk
 5.Considering the fact that How did you pass when you hadn’t studied?

Uses of as

1.While or when
(Often preceded by ‘just’)
 He caught me as I was leaving.

2.In the way that  Dancing as only she can.
3.That which; whatI did as I was told.
4.(Of) Which fact, event, etcTo become wise, as we all know, is not easy.
5.Since; seeing that 
6.In the same way thatHe died of cancer, as his father had done.
7.For instanceCapital cities, as London…
8.Indicates identify of extent, amountShe is as heavy as her sister.
9.In the role of; beingAs his friend, I am probably biased.

Eextracts from Metaphors in Mind

About when (p.60)

Using ‘when’ invites the client to focus on either a particular moment when they experience what they are describing, or a class of experiences similar to that being described. Think of the former as viewing a single snapshot or video clip, and the latter as a number of snapshots or clips of similar events. In other words, ‘when’ asks the client to perceptually ‘stop time’ so that new information and insights have a chance to enter awareness. You can see how this operates in the following example:

C2:It’s like I’m behind a castle door.
T2:And it’s like you’re behind a castle door. And when behind a castle door, what kind of castle door is that castle door?
C3:A huge castle door that’s very thick, very old, with studs, very heavy.

Here ‘when’ invites the client to attend to her perception of the particular time and place called “behind a castle door” – in preparation for the question that follows.

p. 67

In the full syntax of Clean Language, ‘when’ orientates attention to the particular context (time and place) while ‘about’ and ‘that’ direct attention to the particular content (form and location) to be attended to. These words act cumulatively to orientate attention to one perceptual aspect at a time (be that a symbol, a relationship between symbols, a metaphor, a pattern of perceptions or the entire Metaphor Landscape). For many clients, ‘that’ also encourages symbols to acquire an independence, an identity, and to be perceived as separate from the perceiver.

p. 130

The questions in these examples make extensive use of ‘when’ and ‘that’. Generally, ‘when’ invites the client to consider a single event, and ‘that’ directs their attention to a particular component. Compare:

And you have a fear. And what kind of fear?


And you have a fear. And when you have a fear, what kind of fear is that fear?

Using ‘when’ and ‘that’ invites the client to attend to a time when they are experiencing that specific fear and to search for the distinguishing characteristics which make it that fear, and no other.

About as (p. 61)

Like ‘when’, ‘as’ encourages perceptual time to pause so that the client can focus their attention on a single event. In addition, ‘as’ acknowledges and orientates to the ongoing and dynamic nature of the client’s perception. This can be indicated in a number of ways: by a metaphor (e.g. C5: “It takes a lot of energy”); by nonverbals (say, a repeated circular motion of the hand); and by verbs ending in ‘-ing’ which presuppose a continuing process (e.g. trying, struggling, banging). The following illustrates the difference between using ‘when’ and ‘as’:

C3:A huge castle door that’s very thick, very old, with studs, very heavy.
T3:And a huge castle door that’s very thick, very old, with studs, very heavy. And when huge castle door is very thick, very old, with studs, very heavy, is there anything else about that huge castle door?
C4:I can’t open it and I get very very tired trying to open it.
T4:And you can’t open it and you get very very tired trying to open it. And as you get very very tired trying to open it, what kind of very very tired trying is that?
C5:Like I’m struggling on my own and not getting anywhere. It takes a lot of energy. I feel like I’m banging my head on a wall.

If you compare C3 with C4 you will notice the difference between a static perception of “A huge castle door” and a dynamic perception of “trying to open it.” Referencing “castle door” with ‘when’, and “trying” with ‘as’, honours the nature of each description.

To summarise, the formulaic nature of the full syntax of Clean Language is designed to keep your vocabulary and metaphors out of the client’s perceptions. The words ‘and’, ‘when’ and ‘as’ are used for continuity and to encourage clients to attend to a single symbolic event. This enables them to more fully explore whatever they are perceiving at the time, and because they hear mostly their own words, their attention is not distracted from what they are perceiving. Equally, because you do not need to manufacture words of your own, more of your attention is available to watch what they do and listen to exactly what they say.

Acknowledging a change (p. 214)

Directing the client’s attention to a change has two purposes: it ensures the client acknowledges the change is happening or has happened, and it prepares the way for the change to evolve, develop or spread. This is an essential part of maturing because, surprising as it may seem, just because a change takes place does not guarantee the client is fully aware of it. You facilitate the acknowledgement and preparation by starting your questions with either:

And as [description of ongoing change] …


And when [description of change that has happened] …

When a client’s language presupposes that change is still happening, begin with ‘as’. This recognises its ongoing nature and encourages it to continue (see T60 and T61 below). If the change has already happened, begin with ‘when’ (see T62 and T63): 

T60:And as he feels life again, then what happens?
C61:The race becomes enjoyable.
T61:And as the race becomes enjoyable and he feels life again, then what happens?
C62:Confidence returns.
 T62:And confidence returns. And when red, mature heart that’s had lots of experience and deep understanding goes to that young boy and he feels life again and the race becomes enjoyable andconfidence returns, what happens to a mother who’s just read a letter twice?
 C63:She expresses it’s a learning process, not a failure. She’s comfortable with him.
T63:And she’s comfortable with him. And it’s a learning process. And when mother is comfortable with him, what happens next?
C64:The boy has a different view. A sense of security. Looking forward to life.

[End quotes]

When can be used to:

Select a part of the client’s description as the context for the question that follows, e.g:

C:It’s the Yoda with his hand in the air jumping up and down. It’s chicken and egg. I have to listen to my gut instinct in order to give it free rein, but I can’t give it free rein knowing the trouble its caused me. If I rely on mother as an external part, I will always be relying on her. She has to teach me.
T:And when it’s chicken and egg, then what happens?

Zoom in, concentrate, focus attention on one part of the client’s landscape, e.g.

Client:    A, B, C, D, E
Fac:        And when D, ….?

C:As above.
T:And when you listen to your gut instinct, what kind of instinct is that?

Ask a question within a given condition/context, ‘And [question], when [condition/context]?’ e.g.

Fac: And what would you like to have happen when ‘he is never going to change’?

Bring several aspects of a landscape in to the client’s awareness, act as checklist, e.g.

Fac: And when X, and Y, and Z, …

A number of exercises follow next. Practicing them which will extend your understanding and flexible use of when/as.


EXERCISE 1 – Utilising ‘When’ and ‘As’ (in a group of three)

1. B asks A: And what would you like to have happen?

C notes A’s answer.


(If A‘s answer is short, B asks A: ‘And is there anything else about that?’)

2.  A goes out of the earshot of B and C.


B and C pick one Clean Language question and devise 4 ways to use ‘when’ asking the identical question of the same information. e.g.

A: “I want to leave home.”


And when you want to leave home, what kind of home is that home?
And when you leave home, what kind of home is that home?
And when leave, what kind of home is that home?
And what kind of home that, when you leave? 

3. A returns.

B asks 2 of the questions.

C asks 2 of the questions.
A answers each question.


B and C note answers.


After all 4 questions, A says what differences they noticed (and in particular, where there attention was directed by each question).

4. A goes to back out of earshot.

Taking into account all of A’s answers, B and C pick a different Clean Language question and devise 4 ways to use ‘as’ asking the same question of the same information (attempt to find additional ways of using ‘as’ from the first round).

5.    Repeat setp 3.

6.    Bring examples of different ways of using when/as back to the whole group. 

In preparation for the following exercises, have the list of variations (standard and other) given below to hand.

Standard questions:

And when/as …, [question]?


And [question], when/as … ?

Variations [NOTE: Some are cleaner than others!]:

And even when … ?

And after … ?

And before … ?

And since …?

And through(out) … ?

And during … ?

And now that … ?

And given … ?

And besides … ?

And beyond … ?

And in spite of … ?

And with …?

And until …?

And outside …? [when in/out has been mentioned]

And within [container metaphor] …?

And what determines when …? [when a choice of bhaviours has been mentioned]

EXERCISE 2 – for group of 3 to 6

1. Person A writes a statement of a problem (with several sentences of description) on a flip chart.

2. Another person in the group picks one of the variations of the question (see the above list) and uses A‘s problem statement as a basis for asking their question.

A considers the answer but does not reply.

3. The next person in the group picks an unasked variation and uses A‘s problem statement as a basis for asking their question.

A considers the answer but does not reply.

4. Continue round the group until all variations on the list (and anymore that you can think of) have been asked.

5. Only when the exercise is finished does A report on their experience.

EXERCISE 3 – In pairs (10 minutes in each role)

1. A writes a current problem/difficulty for them in one sentence and then says it to person B.

2. B picks one of the variations listed above and uses A‘s statement as the basis for asking that question.

A answers the question.

3. A repeats the same problem/difficulty statement.

4. B picks a different variation and asks it of A‘s original statement.

A answers this question.

5. B and A continue until they have asked/answered 6 different variations of A‘s original statement.

6. After they have answered 6 questions A reports on their experience.

Swap roles.

EXERCISE 4 – In 3’s (15 minutes in each role)

1. Person B starts by asking person A ‘And what would you like to have happen?’

Person A answers.

2. Person C asks one of the variations on the list using A‘s answer.

If it does not seem reasonable to ask A any of the variations then B just use when/as.

A answer the questions.

3. B asks a question with a different variation.

4. The role of facilitator passes between B and C every time one of the variations is asked.

Any of A‘s answers can be used to formulate a variation question.

5. After 15 minutes swap roles.

NOTE: The aim is to make the session as naturalistic as possible while asking as many variations as possible. The key purpose is for the facilitators (B and C) to practise asking the variations, not necessarily for the ‘client’ to have a life-changing experience.


An exercise based on “And when X, what happens to Y?” with discussion from a Clean Language practice group can be found at cleanform.com (thread=164) [Link no longer available]
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