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They sailed the sea on a huge fleet where the sight of the largest battleship would make pirates flee.

Is where being used correctly here. I am using it as a conjunction where refers to the location of the fleet.

They sailed in groups of five on small boats organized like a military fleet where the sight of an advancing boat would scare off fishes.

What if where refers to the location of a fictional thing that's in an adverbial phrase? Is this ok?

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2 Answers 2

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Neither sentence works.

Relative pronouns refer to the nearest preceding phrase that matches the type of the pronoun. The type that matches "where" is an adverbial of location.

Although "in a huge fleet" refers to the formation of the fleet and not its location, grammar-wise, it's an adverbial of location, so "where" refers to "in a huge fleet", not to "the sea", and the sentence is somewhat nonsensical.

That sentence could be improved by reordering the phrases so that the "where" clause comes immediately after "the sea".

The second sentence is grammatical, but has the strange meaning of the ships sailing in places where the sight of an advancing boat would scare off fish, implying that there are other places where this would not scare off fish, and they chose not to sail there. I'm not sure what the intended meaning was, so I cannot suggest improvements.

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  • Doesn't "where" as conjunction refer to "the sight of"?
    – user139882
    Aug 13, 2021 at 17:39
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    "The sight of" is a noun. You'd need a noun-referring pronoun like "which" or "that" to refer to "the sight of"
    – gotube
    Aug 14, 2021 at 0:28
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Where is also a conjunction, as can be seen here. The quality of what it is pointing to is not really important and it's not part of the definition. So, your usages are fine.

If we look at ngrams, it's certainly fell out of fashion in the nineties but is making a comeback:

enter image description here

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  • This doesn't address the question of whether "where" has the intended meaning in the example sentences, nor whether they are grammatical
    – gotube
    Aug 13, 2021 at 15:45

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