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"Hawaii is the island that plants are green all the year round."

One English teacher I know- he's not a native English speaker- argues this sentence is grammatically okay since 'that' can replace the relative adverb 'where' in the sentence, which I don't agree with at all.

According to Practical English Usage by Michael Swan, 'where' is often replaced by 'that' or dropped in an informal style after somewhere, anywhere, everywhere, nowhere and place but not after other words.

I don't think 'that' is as versatile as he thinks.

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    Hawai is an island where plants are green all year round. An island is a place, therefore, you need where not that. However, that can be dropped but not in your sentence. The book that I like is blue.=The book I like is blue. The island that I visited is large.=The island I visited is large. – Lambie May 29 '18 at 12:58
  • H. is an island that plants are green on all year round. That might work. At least in speech it would. – Lambie May 29 '18 at 21:22
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that is not a locative.

If your clause requires a locative, use where or on|in which.

Hawaii is an island where pineapples grow.

Hawaii is an island on which pineapples grow.

This is the greenhouse in which our prize-winning tomato plants are grown.

This is also valid but the reference is to an entity not to a locus:

Hawaii is an island that has pineapples growing on it.

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I agree that where is better than that in your sentence. However, I'm unconvinced that the version in your question isn't "grammatically okay."

If you read between the lines, there are actually three questions buried in your question here:

1) Is the island where plants are green preferable to the island that plants are green?

Answer: Yes, I think most native speakers would find the version with where more natural and less jarring to the ear.

2) Is the island that plants are green grammatically okay?

Answer: This is where things get tricky, because the line between "grammatically correct" and "awkward" can get very fuzzy, and even depend on dialect. Just because a sentence can be improved doesn't mean the sentence is wrong in a grammatical sense. Whether that could be used instead of where in such a phrase depends largely on the rest of the sentence.

3) (from your title) Do native English speakers say like this?

Answer: Yes! Most people don't proofread their sentences before they are uttered, so native speakers will sometimes be heard saying things in a less-than-ideal way. It can be hard to find written instances of an awkward phrase, because such phases often get fixed before they get published. But that doesn't mean you would absolutely never hear something like this in an interview somewhere.

Moreover, sometimes which word you might use depends on the phrasing. For example:

  • Hawaii is a place where the cost of living is high.
  • Hawaii is a place that has a high cost of living.

Although I would generally use where in the first sentence, I couldn't use where in the second sentence, because the phrase "a place where has" simply doesn't work. So, even though the two sentences are similar, one uses "that" while the other uses "where".

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    "Hawaii is the island that plants are green all the year round"?? is completely wrong: It would have to be: "Hawaii is the island that plants are green on all year". one could get away with. Plants are green on the island of Hawaii all year. That's why. – Lambie May 29 '18 at 17:22
  • @Lambie - My answer only addresses "the island that plants are green", not the whole sentence. As you point out in your comment, one might be able to "get away with" that, depending on the phrasing. – J.R. May 29 '18 at 21:03
  • Again, someone removed my comment, which is: "the island that plants are green" is not grammatical in English, and it does not matter whether or not you cite the entire sentence. One can get away with:the island that plants are green on" The preposition on is needed to make it at all grammatical. – Lambie May 30 '18 at 14:26
  • @Lambie - Again, I never intended for "the island that plants are green" to be analyzed as a standalone sentence. Remember, the question is about that vs. where. My point is that "that" could be used, depending upon the rest of the sentence, which is reinforced by your comment: One can get away with: the island that plants are green on. – J.R. May 30 '18 at 14:45

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