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When I am trying to find articles in the library.

What should I ask in an appropriate way?

A) "What do I start looking at?"

B) "Where do I start looking at?

C) "Where do I start looking?"

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  • Which do you think is the most appropriate?
    – JavaLatte
    Dec 14 '20 at 8:29
  • @JavaLatte I think C. But I am not sure what other choices mean? Thanks for your asking. Dec 16 '20 at 12:24
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The most idiomatic expression would be:

  • Where do I begin?

Of your options:

  • 'A' is grammatically correct but does not mean what you intend. As 'what' determines a specific thing, this asks which specific book you should start to look at, rather than which book you should look at first.

  • 'B' is ungrammatical. 'Where' determines a place or area, and you do not want to start looking 'at' an area, you want to go to an area to look at books.

  • 'C' is acceptable grammatically, it just isn't as idiomatic as 'where do I begin'.

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    As a former librarian who used to answer such queries, I find C perfectly idiomatic. Dec 14 '20 at 9:09
  • @KateBunting I agree, it's completely understandable and grammatical - just not as idiomatic as 'where do I start' or 'where do I begin'. As a writer, I'd choose the recognisable idiom every time because it is less distracting to the reader. And we'd have to presume that whatever they say will follow some other statement of what they are looking for.
    – Astralbee
    Dec 14 '20 at 9:14
  • @Astralbee "Where should I go to start or start looking?" Is this an idiomatic expression? When the following response might be Reference Section. Dec 16 '20 at 12:49
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    @StatsCruncher The problem on this site is that people often confuse 'idiomatic' for 'grammatical'. A phrase can be both, or just one and not the other. A true idiom is the most common way of saying something, or the choice that native speakers may default to. I didn't say that it wasn't at all idiomatic, I just said it isn't as idiomatic as another option, meaning it may not be the most common way to say something.
    – Astralbee
    Dec 16 '20 at 13:24
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    I hope my question is not unkind to you or other users. For me, I welcome discussion that you and other users shared. I am keen to ask further questions. Dec 16 '20 at 13:32
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B) is ungrammatical. A) and C) have different meanings:

A) would be used if you have a selection of options in front of you. Perhaps you are looking at a series of shelves, with hundreds of journals. You want to know which shelf to look on, or perhaps you want to know which journal to look at, or perhaps which specific issue to pick up.

C) would be used if you have no idea where anything is in the library. Perhaps you want to find the linguistics section, or the law section.

However, these rules are not strict. In an informal context (walking into the library with a friend, for example), you could use A) and C) with approximately the same meaning.

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    A comparison between A and C in real situation is very helpful. Dec 16 '20 at 12:49

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