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Can the word "country" be omitted in the following?

  1. John visited France, Spain, and Italy last year. Which (country) did he like best?

  2. John visited France, Spain, and Italy last year. In which (country) did he meet Sarah?

I'd appreciate your help.

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John visited France, Spain, and Italy last year. Which (country) did he like best?

John visited France, Spain, and Italy last year. In which (country) did he meet Sarah?

The most natural, in regular conversation, would be:

Where did he meet Sarah? or: Which country did he meet Sarah in?

In which country did he meet Sarah? is grammatically correct and awkward in terms of usage unless the context is very formal.

Since the context of countries is established, there is no need to repeat it but you can if you want to.

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1 - Yes, you can omit country. It is understood that you’re asking about countries (the one he liked best).

2 - I was hesitant to say you could omit country in the second sentence at first, but I think it is grammatical. Something about it sounds a little stilted to me, though. "In which one...", "In which of those...", etc. are also correct, but that doesn't mean the original sentence is incorrect.

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    OP's example #2 isn't necessarily eliding/omitting the specific word country, since it hasn't actually been used earlier. The format is perfectly valid even if we suppose it's a shorter version of In which of those did he meet Sarah? Where again, there's no real reason to suppose that's specifically a shorter version of which of those countries (the speaker might be thinking which of those places, but it's effectively irrelevant which word he has in mind, if any). – FumbleFingers Feb 11 at 16:01
  • Oh wow... yeah, that's a good point. "Countries" is not used in the first sentence at all; the countries are just listed. Editing my answer. – Mixolydian Feb 11 at 16:31
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    I still think you're mistaken in asserting that any explicit noun must (or even "should") occur after which in such contexts. We've got red wine and white wine. Which do you want? Few people would ever bother to include a noun (colour, one, wine, [of] those) there. – FumbleFingers Feb 11 at 17:07
  • I have changed my mind - I agree with you that an explicit noun is not needed. I still think that "In which" (by itself) sounds a bit too formal for normal speech (if this is meant to be speech). Maybe "in which" in general just sounds formal since putting the preposition at the beginning sounds like a conscious effort to be "correct". Written English of course has different conventions. – Mixolydian Feb 11 at 17:15
  • What's up with all that crossed out text?? – Lambie Feb 11 at 17:25
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OP is mistaken even in supposing that the word country is "omitted" in the examples. That specific word never occurred earlier in the "conversation", and the second sentence could just as well have been Which place did he like best?, In which of those did he meet her? anyway.

But actually, there's no syntactic reason to identify any specific noun after which in such contexts. For example,...

We have red wine and white wine. Which do you prefer?

...is a perfectly natural construction, in both formal and informal contexts (informally, We've got... Which do you want? would be more common, but that's irrelevant to the point under consideration).


It might help to note that which is sometimes identified as an interrogative pronoun. That's to say, it's already a "nouny" sort of word anyway, so there's no reason to suppose grammar / syntax would require it always to be coupled to another noun. Of course, semantically it might be needed to clarify meaning / resolve ambiguity, but that clearly isn't the case with OP's examples.

  • Does "John visited France, Spain, and Italy last year. In which did he meet Sarah? / Which did he meet Sarah in?" sound OK? I suspect "bare which" with a preposition sounds bad when the antecedents are proper nouns. – Apollyon Feb 11 at 23:09
  • I don't think the reason it's not so good in this specific context reflects any general principle that "bare which" without (typo?) a preposition sounds bad when the antecedents are proper nouns. It's just that the required context happens to require a "container" metaphor, that would normally be covered by where, but simultaneously it needs to reflect the sense of "one item selected from a preceding list". Which can only really be done by including the preposition in which. – FumbleFingers Feb 12 at 13:09
  • Compare "John received the box, in which he found 10 coins" with "John visited Ruritania, in which he met Sarah." The former with its common noun antecedent sounds better than the latter. – Apollyon Feb 12 at 13:48
  • Consider also "John visited Ruritania, which he found to be a beautiful country." The sentence without a pre-which preposition, sounds better than "John visited Ruritania, in which he met Sarah." – Apollyon Feb 12 at 13:51
  • But your Ruritania, in which example doesn't include the "one item selected from a preceding list" context, so there's no reason not to use where. If we do have such a list, (and if we rephrase to a statement rather than a question as per OP's original), we end up with something like John visited France, Spain, and Italy last year, in the last of which he met Sarah. Stylistically awful, I know - but at least that would be syntactically "credible". – FumbleFingers Feb 12 at 14:04

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