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The elements of the second column are called the alkali earth metals. Like the alkali metals, these are relatively soft metals that react with water to liberate hydrogen gas. But where the alkali metals react explosively, the alkali earths are tamer—they react slowly enough that the hydrogen does not spontaneously ignite, allowing calcium (20), for example, to be used in portable hydrogen generators.

From "Elements: A Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom in the Universe" by Theodore Gray (2012)

In the text above, does "where" mean "while or "in situations that"?

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  • Modern grammar classifies "where" as a preposition that (in this case) takes a declarative content clause as complement. This "where" has been bleached of the basic locative meaning: here it indicates contrast, like "whereas".
    – BillJ
    Commented Oct 31, 2021 at 14:39
  • 2
    It is better not to attach images of text. You should type the actual text in your question. Also you should say where the text comes from. Commented Oct 31, 2021 at 15:02
  • Yes, "where", "while", "in situations that" and "under conditions that" are all reasonable synonyms in this context. No, it isn't equivalent to "but". If it were, the two wouldn't appear together in the model. Commented Oct 31, 2021 at 15:30
  • where here = when
    – Lambie
    Commented Oct 31, 2021 at 15:57
  • @FumbleFingers Isn't that a typo of 'while' or 'whereas'? I've never seen 'where' used like this.
    – JK2
    Commented Nov 1, 2021 at 8:18

1 Answer 1

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In the cited context, where is equivalent to whereas, although, but,... It's a contrastive conjunction, joining together two assertions that superficially appear incompatible / different in some way. Alkali metals explode, but alkali earths don't, which can be stylistically resequenced to Where[as] alkali metals explode, alkali earths don't.

Note that where in such contexts doesn't really have anything to do with actual locations or situations. Obviously not all alkali metals always explode in all circumstances, or we'd never be able to find or use them, but the cited text doesn't contain any allusion to specific circumstances where alkali metals explode. The same construction can be used of statements that are continuously "true", such as Where[as] the Sun shines by its own light, we can only see the Moon because it reflects light.

I think it's a little bit "stylised, affected" to use where (or indeed when) instead of whereas, but I don't think the usage is all that uncommon. The relevant definition in the full OED is II-12b: In adversative sense: While on the contrary = when adverb (defn 9b), whereas adverb and conjunction (defn 3).

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  • If you remove all your comments, I will upvote this answer.
    – Lambie
    Commented Feb 27, 2022 at 19:17

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