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Sentence one: "This is the place that I remember."
Sentence two: "This is the place where we first met."

Why do we use "that" and not "where" in sentence one?
Why do we use "where" and not "that" in sentence two?

Thank you.

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  • Welcome user76539. Both sentences are correct. "that" is general and you can in many cases but "where" can only be used when you would like to describe a place, as you do. "that" is informal, and "where" is more formal. Even you can remove "that". Nov 9, 2021 at 12:45
  • Place is the direct object of the verb remember, but not of met. You met one another at or in the place. Nov 9, 2021 at 12:52
  • Thank you Fredoon and thank you Kate. Does this mean that "that" and "where" are both relative pronouns in their respective sentences?
    – user76539
    Nov 9, 2021 at 13:26
  • @user76539 No: in modern grammar "that" is classified as a subordinator. The ‘missing’ relativised element is represented by a gap anaphorically linked to the antecedent, "place", i.e. “the place that I remember __". We understand that "I remember the place", where "the place" is a noun phrase. In your second example, modern grammar classifies "where" as a preposition. We understand that “we met at/in this place", where "at/in this place" is a preposition phrase.
    – BillJ
    Nov 9, 2021 at 15:41
  • Hi BillJ. Thank you very much for your detailed reply. I sincerely appreciate it :)
    – user76539
    Nov 10, 2021 at 8:25

1 Answer 1

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The phrases, "that I remember" and "where we first met" are relative clauses. Relative clauses combine two clauses together by reusing part of the main clause in the relative clause.

The words "that" and "where" replace the reused part of the sentence. "That" replaces a noun, and "where" replaces an adverbial phrase of location.

"This is the place that I remember" can be broken up into two sentences:

This is the place. (from the main clause)

I remember the place. (from the relative clause)

In the relative clause, "the place" is a noun, so we replace it with "that".

"This is the place where we first met" can also be broken up into two sentences:

This is the place. (from the main clause)

We first met in the place. (from the relative clause)

In the relative clause, "in the place" is an adverbial of location (not a noun), so we replace it with "where".

Now, let's say we choose to use "that" instead of "where" in the second example sentence, like this:

"This is the place that we first met."

Let's break it up into two sentences again:

This is the place.

We met the place.

"We met the place" means we didn't meet each other, but somehow two people met a location, which is nonsense.

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  • Hi gotube. My most sincere gratitude to you for taking time to write such an informative response to my question. I've been confused with the topics above (still more to learn), but your explanation has helped. Thank you.
    – user76539
    Nov 10, 2021 at 8:29
  • @user76539 My sincere pleasure, and thank YOU! Few things make my day like hearing that my teaching work has helped someone finally understand something they'd been confused about.
    – gotube
    Nov 10, 2021 at 18:25

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