Why is it that we can say:

Chicago is the city where I grew up.

but not

Chicago is the city where never sleeps.

How can I explain to my students why it has to be 'Chicago is the city that never sleeps?'


  • Perhaps I should clarify. I teach English as a 2nd language. Students find relative pronouns confusing. So when you tell them that 'Chicago is the city where I grew up' is a defining relative clause using the relative pronoun where - they want to know why they can't use 'where' in the sentence Chicago is the city that never sleeps. They want to use 'where' because Chicago is a place - so using 'where' seems logical - Chicago is the city 'where' never sleeps - seems logical. I found myself struggling to explain - so was looking for help - and apologize if I was unclear.
    – TShirt57
    Commented Nov 26, 2017 at 15:57
  • 'Chicago is the city where no one ever sleeps.' is totally grammatical (if obviously untrue). Notice the independent clause following 'where', as with 'I grew up'. 'Where' used in this way may be replaced by 'at which' or 'in which' (whichever work/s) etc. Commented Nov 26, 2017 at 15:58
  • 5
    In your final example "that" functions as subject of the relative clause, thus "Chicago never sleeps". By contrast, "where" functions as a locative adjunct ("in/at/to/from some place"), not subject, so in your second example the relative clause has no subject. (It effectively means *"never sleeps in Chicago", which clearly makes no sense).
    – BillJ
    Commented Nov 26, 2017 at 17:17
  • @EdwinAshworth - your comment is of course true but it misses what the OP is asking. Commented Nov 26, 2017 at 17:24
  • Explaining grammar is one thing. However, |where I grew up| and |x that never sleeps|, does not mean that "where never sleeps" is anything other than gibberish. "Never" is an adverb and therefore cannot "sleep". Of course, in Spanish, one gets: donde uno nunca duerme. An English speaker would never come up with the structure: where never sleeps. It's 100% improbable. Unless the person has an affliction.
    – Lambie
    Commented Nov 26, 2017 at 18:31

1 Answer 1


Because "where" cannot be used as the subject of a relative clause, but only as an adjunct to it: it is equivalent to a phrase such as "in which" or "at which" or "to which".

In "which never sleeps", which is the subject. In "where I grew up", "where" is not.

  • Thanks Colin. So from what you're saying I would say that in the following sentence (taken from my workbook) ---- That's the park where I learned to ride a bike---- 'where' can't be the subjec, it can only be an adjunct to 'I' And in this sentence ---- Paris is a city which/that has a lot of monuments ----- 'which/that' function as the subject - is that correct? (Apologies I'm struggling with formatting - can't seem to add line breaks.)
    – TShirt57
    Commented Nov 26, 2017 at 17:56
  • @TShirt57 Yes, that's what he is saying, just as I did in my comment above. "Where" is indeed an adjunct, but not to "I". Adjuncts are modifiers in clause structure, not modifiers of nouns. In your example, the relative clause means "I learned to ride a bike in that park". You have it right about your "Paris" example.
    – BillJ
    Commented Nov 26, 2017 at 18:37
  • On a related note, where can be used, actually is used, in sentences such as Where I grew up was terrible and where I grew up there was a park on every corner. Commented Dec 1, 2017 at 16:36
  • 1
    @Clare Your example "Where I grew up was terrible" is irrelevant here since it is an entirely different construction to that of the OP's. Your example is a 'fused' relative construction in which "where" is a 'fused' relative word meaning "the place where". Thus "where I grew up" is a noun phrase" in which "where" is simultaneously head of the NP and the relativised element. It has nothing to with the erroneous function of "where" as a subject, which was the reason the OP's second example was ungrammatical.
    – BillJ
    Commented Dec 2, 2017 at 8:37

You must log in to answer this question.