[i] Well, as we reported earlier the chief executive of the Dutch airport where the flight departed says 27 Australians were on board. (ABC news)
[ii] There was where Vadinho used to sit on the wall, at his feet the sea dotted with fishing skiffs. (Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands, translated by Alfred A.Knoptf)

Someone says where of [i] is (relative) adverb, another one says preposition (CGEL,p.1050), and another one says adjunctizer (by Bas Aarts). Okay aside from whatever names they call it, there is antecedent in [i], and there isn’t any in [ii] - In the latter case, antecedent is freed or fused; ‘where’ of [i] means ‘from which’, ‘where’ of [ii] means ‘the place in which’. This is the difference between the two, isn’t it?

  • @user3169 It’s exactly what the translation read - I don’t know if it was the translating division’s - it is written that this books is translated by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc - original intention. I’m afraid there are some who think the structure is quite right: (from COCA) And there was where they burrowed a hole in his skull to relieve pressure on the ‘brain. But there was where the girls must have been. There was where the line should have been drawn
    – Listenever
    Commented Jul 18, 2014 at 0:53
  • I think you're right, as far as it goes; but I have to wonder how the relationship between the two terms linked by the copula was in [ii] is distinguished semantically from the relationship between the two terms linked by anaphora in [i]! Commented Jul 18, 2014 at 0:58
  • @StoneyB I think the words, free or fused, imply the semantic difference. Because of this, in [ii] the clause has the meaning of NP; in [i] adjective. For this reason, I think, Bas Aarts says ‘where’ in [i] is adjunctizer, ‘where’ in [ii] is complementizer.
    – Listenever
    Commented Jul 18, 2014 at 1:14
  • Those are names for the difference; but they refer to syntactic roles, not semantic distinctions. Commented Jul 18, 2014 at 2:09
  • @StoneyB, Listenever. I guess [ii] is likely a referring back, for example, [a narrative about a place]. There was where Vadinho used to sit on the wall, .... And both there and where refer to that place. It's also possible that it's a referring forward to arouse the reader's curiosity. (If [ii] was the first sentence in the passage, it would make the reader wonder for a while, "Where is that place that Vadinho used to sit on the wall?". I couldn't find the original text on the web, though. Commented Jul 18, 2014 at 9:22

1 Answer 1


You've got it. There is little difference between free and bound relative clauses except their syntactic deployment. You may freely switch either clause into the opposite use:

That airport is [FREE RELATIVE where the flight departed].
From the spot [BOUND RELATIVE where Vadinho used to sit on the wall] the fishing skiffs were visible, dotted at his feet.

There are constraints on what pronouns may be used in the different contexts (for instance, -ever forms are not used in bound relatives), but the difference at bottom is between complementary and adjunctive use.

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