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Can I say "I know where they were walking to"?

I'm aware that running ngram searches is not the best way to learn the grammatical correctness of a clause, but I was wondering why this particular sentence structure, particularly "where+subject+was walking to" gives incredibly few results, even after trying with different pronouns. It looks like it's a strange clause to utter, but I'd like to know for certain, and of course why.

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2 Answers 2

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You probably get very few results, because the most common way of saying that would be:

I know where they were going.

Perhaps very few people have felt the need to specify "the manner of" going somewhere in such a sentence using verbs such as "walking", "driving", "crawling" etc.

I personally wouldn't say a sentence like: "I know where they were walking to" even in my mother tongue. Would you say that in yours? If not, that might explain why you're not getting a significant number of results in your searches.

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  • So, let's suppose that a woman is watching a man with psychological disorders walking somewhere. Would it make more sense if she said, "He doesn't know where he was walking to"?
    – Fra
    Apr 7, 2022 at 18:36
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    @Fra Even in this case, what really matters is that someone has gone somewhere. How they have gone there is not really the point of interest. The sentence is grammatical. It just isn't something that would be said under normal circumstances unless you want to put emphasis on the manner og movement. "Did he drive to school?" "No, he walked". Apr 7, 2022 at 18:54
  • It may well be said in an appropriate context, such as when talking about a group of walkers. To dismiss it as you have is quite wrong.
    – BillJ
    Apr 8, 2022 at 6:18
  • @BillJ I didn't dimiss it. I said it's not something that would be said under normal circumstances. Apr 8, 2022 at 6:20
  • The OP talked of "grammatical correctness", so 'normal circumstances, as you put it, are not relevant. In any case, when talking about a group of walkers, for example, it would be the normal thing to say. The interrogative nature of the clause is important, though.
    – BillJ
    Apr 8, 2022 at 6:28
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I know [where they were walking to].

It's fine. "Where they were walking to" is a subordinate interrogative clause functioning as complement of "know".

The meaning is "I know the answer to the question 'Where were they walking to?'"

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