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He was sleeping in the same bed (where) his girlfriend had died last year.

Both versions sound okay to me. Is "where" necessary or unnecessary? Why?

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    These are both relative constructions. The version with "where" is okay, since "where" means "in which", but it is less likely to be heard than the alternant without "where", though a preposition is required: "He was sleeping in the same bed his girlfriend had died in last year". – BillJ Oct 26 '16 at 17:11
  • Does "where" mean the same thing as "in which"? I don't think it does. "Where" is general location, while "in which" is one specific location from a group. I could be wrong, but "where" sounds wrong to me here. – jmartindill Oct 26 '16 at 17:27
  • @jmartindill Yes, the "in" component is contributed by "where" together with its spatial location function, cf. "This is the house where (in which) I was born": link – BillJ Oct 26 '16 at 17:45
  • @BillJ you're right, I stand corrected. "In which" is more formal, but in informal speech "where" seems to be just fine. – jmartindill Oct 26 '16 at 17:45
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EDIT

Where is considered appropriate here, just informal. "Where" might just seem strange to me because it's a bed and not a building or something, but I think it's fine.

See this article for a full discussion.

Original answer below:

I don't think "where" is the proper word here. To me, "in which" sounds much more appropriate, as in

He was sleeping in the same bed in which his girlfriend had died last year.

I can't tell you exactly why, but I would use "where" if there isn't an object.

He was sleeping where his girlfriend had died.

Alternatively, you could write it as

He was sleeping in the same bed his girlfriend had died in last year.

or

He was sleeping in the same bed that his girlfriend had died in last year.

EDIT

To clarify about why "where" seems wrong to me:

If I say, "He is sleeping there", you might ask, "Where?" So, you can write

He is sleeping where she had died.

If I say, "He is sleeping in this bed", the question isn't, "where?", the question is, "which bed?" So, you can write,

He is sleeping in the bed which she had died in.

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