A discussion under a recent question brought up a topic I've been wondering about for a while:

Only the word "place" is unusual and has the formula "the place where/that/∅", isn't (or should I say "doesn't"?) it? – Zhang Jian yesterday

@ZhangJian Yes, that's right :) – Araucaria yesterday

I've been wondering about this ever since I read the following quote from A Student's Introduction to English Grammar:

[v] a place [where you can relax]


The non-wh construction is not always available when the relativised element is adjunct (or complement) of place; the example in [v], with the head noun place, is perfectly acceptable, but in sentences with head nouns less likely to suggest location, a wh relative would normally be required. (p.185)

Likewise, from the Cambridge Grammar of the English Language:

Relatives introduced by where, by contrast, do not in general alternate with the non-wh type except where the antecedent is a very general noun such as place [...] (p.1053)

These quotes seems to suggest that place is one of a small class of words which strongly suggest location and have the same or similar grammar, but are there in fact any other words like place?

From these descriptions, I would think they would be very general nouns like location, but location at least doesn't seem to work the same way:

1a. Dublin is the place where I want to live.
1b. Dublin is the place that I want to live.
1c. Dublin is the place I want to live.

2a. Dublin is the location where I want to live.
2b. *Dublin is the location that I want to live. (ungrammatical)
2c. *Dublin is the location I want to live. (ungrammatical)

To make 2b and 2c grammatical, I need to add a preposition like in, so it seems like location doesn't work the same way as place.

Are there any other words like this, or is place unique?

  • What about: "Dublin is the place I want to live."? 2a to 2c are not very idiomatic. Dublin is the place where the company is located. Place may suggest location, but place and location do not "have grammar". What is your question exactly?
    – Lambie
    May 3, 2018 at 14:20
  • 1
    Might it be semantic? "Location" has the meaning of "position" as in Tell me your location? and Where is it located? which "place" lacks. Wait, on second thought, if you replace "place" with "city", only Dublin is the city I want to live in and Dublin is the city where I want to live sound right, not *Dublin is the city that I want to live
    – Eddie Kal
    May 3, 2018 at 14:25
  • I think "way" and "reason" behave the same way. (Only suggesting, dunno the answer to the question.) May 3, 2018 at 14:29
  • 1
    Your beef might not be with the nouns place or location but with the verbs you are using. Dublin may very well be the place or location you want to see, experience, recommend, extol, discover, and so on.
    – Robusto
    May 3, 2018 at 15:15
  • Dublin is the place that I want to grow old. How does that strike you ear?
    – TimR
    May 3, 2018 at 15:46

3 Answers 3


Grammarly knows more than I do (about many things, including that vs which): https://www.grammarly.com/blog/which-vs-that/

But I do know something. And, in this case, Grammarly is incorrect.

1a. Dublin is the place where I want to live. 1b. Dublin is the place that I want to live. 1c. Dublin is the place I want to live.

1a. Is correct, because Dublin is a "where". 1b. Simply doesn't mean what 1a means. 1b and 1c mean that you want Dublin to live. That doesn't make sense, obviously, because a place can't live.

The Boston Red Sox is the team that I want to win. The Boston Red Sox is the team I want to win.

Those are similar to 1b and 1c, but are ambiguous. Is the intent the desire for the the Boston Red Sox to win? Or is the intent that the speaker/author wants to win the Boston Red Sox (e.g., if there was a lottery and you had the chance to win the Boston Red Sox or some other team)?

In other words, 1b and 1c are just as bad as 2b and 2c for the same reasons. It happens that many people say or write 1b and 1c while few, if any, say or write 2b or 2c. But the fact that many people say or write something doesn't make it correct.

The real problem is that the English language is messed up. The important thing is that your audience understands what you mean. So, before you speak or write, think about whether what you want to say can be said in a way that is unambiguous. That is, don't concern yourself with which word is correct, because there really are no correct words.

  • This answer is spot on. The brief version would be "1b and 1c mean that you want Dublin to live[, but] a place can't live" and the conclusion the best choice is 1a. Dec 4, 2018 at 14:37

Your examples 1b, 1c, 2b, and 2c are ungrammatical. The reason is that the verb "live" (to be alive; i.g. If the surgery is successful, the boy will live.) is not the same as "live in" (to inhabit a location; i.g. I live in a house. or I live in Dublin.). In the examples 1a and 2a the "where" substitutes for "in". There are a lot of prepositions that can substitute for "in" so long as they refer to a physical place, otherwise the meaning of the verb.

The word "place" does not have any special qualities if formulas that I have ever been taught in my English classes. The phrase that comes after "place" is additional information that can be left out of the sentence without making it ungrammatical.

1a Subject[Dublin] Verb[is] Object[the place [where I want to live]].

Subject[Dublin] Verb[is] Object[the place].

This sentence is probably not the best example because the sentences seem to answer different questions:

Where do you want to live? I want to live in Dublin. Where is the best place to live? Dublin is the (best) place.

This can work with other nouns as well.

Dublin is the location where I want to live. Fresno is the town I grew up in. Apple pie is the dessert that I prefer.


This oddity is because place is, in this case, an adverb of place, not a noun. These don't require the same rules as nouns since they aren't actually nouns.

Some examples of words you'd think are nouns at first glance but usually are acting as adverbs of place are home, upstairs, underground, and outside.

I want to go home.


I want to go to the house.


I prefer sleeping upstairs.


I prefer sleeping on the second floor.

In your example, location is acting as a noun, not an adverb of place, which means you have to use different rules than with "place."

  • No. When it follows 'the', 'place' is functioning as a noun. Dec 4, 2018 at 14:42

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