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Imagine, you have got postcards of various places (countries, cities, towns etc) and you are now showing your friend those postcards, which have such pictures taken from above. So, when you are showing these to your friend if you want him to guess, how do you ask:

1- Where is that?

2- What place is that?

3- Where was that picture taken?

4- What is that place?"

5- Where is this place?

I did some research with some similar content and I have found the first three suggestion, but none of them seems to work in this case. Here are what I have found:

1- "Where is that?". (This sounds like OK for particular things such as landmarks in an area, but not for huge pieces of land like cities in pictures taken from above. For example if you show a postcard of Tokyo taken from the air, can you say "Where is that" referring to the whole area in the picture? I am not sure, because "that"* sounds like it points to a thing like a landmark in a city but not the whole city area which the landmark is in.)

2-"What place is that?" (The answer would be "That is supermarket, or a stadium". So, this structure won't work either.)

3- "What is that place?" (Same as above, "That place is a huge park." It does not refer to the whole area shown in the picture.)

4- "Where was that picture taken?" (Not referring to the area particularly. The answer would be "It was taken on a hill or under the sea etc) (Again this is not what I want to ask.)

So, the only way I could think of is "Where is this place?" If you show a picture of any place which was taken from the above with all the buildings, I think this seems to be the only way to ask someone to guess what the whole place shown from the above is called?

So, my question is: Is "Where is this place?" idiomatic for asking a question, which would refer to "the whole area shown in a picture taken above"?

For instance:

A: Where is this place?

B: It is China.

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  • In the context of identifying photos of geographical places, all those questions would be OK. Saying "That's a supermarket" in this context would be seen as an annoyingly literal answer. Commented Aug 18, 2023 at 8:14
  • Unlike people, physical locations don't move, so we're more inclined to think of them as "distant" when seeing them in photographs (the place can't possibly be "here", but feasibly the person could be). Consequently, I suspect we're more likely to say Where is that? or Who is this? when querying a location or person in a photo, rather than Where is this? or Who is that? Commented Aug 18, 2023 at 10:59
  • The use of the words this and that don't differentiate between things which are whole or partial. This and that are about relative distances from the speaker's point of view. If you want a specific answer like "It's China", then I think what you want to ask is "Which country is this?" (where this refers to the image on the photo/postcard you are holding in your hand). You could also use that, since it doesn't make a huge difference in this particular context.
    – Billy Kerr
    Commented Aug 18, 2023 at 11:33
  • How about “What city is?” Commented Aug 18, 2023 at 13:31

2 Answers 2

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If you want to guide your friend to answer in a certain way you could say

Which country is this?

China.

Or, in a slightly more formal way for a written test

Identify the countries shown in these postcards.

But you are asking for a "launch and leave" sentence, in which you say one thing and achieve perfect communication every time with a predictable response. That's required for tests but natural spoken language is a two-way affair, with the other person able to respond in multiple ways or ask for clarification.

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OP asks:

So, I want to ask, is "Where is this place?" idiomatic or is there another way of asking it, which would bring "the whole area shown in the picture" as an answer...?

[my emphasis]

I take it you're not referring to identifying a place from some iconic piece of it, like a skyline, or a famous building, but your picture is showing the place in its entirety.

this place or here isn't specific with respect to what you're looking at. The word place is much like the word thing in its vagueness. If I have a wooden box with a gouge mark, and ask you "What's this thing?" I could be asking you to explain how the box became marred, because I might be focusing on the gouge, not the box. If I said, "What's this, here?" I could be asking you what the item was or asking you about the damage.

So the problem is that with place or here it could refer to the city as a whole or a neighborhood or a building in the picture, something the viewer thinks is prominent, or to a mountain range, or a continent. If it isn't clear, the viewer might wonder, "Where, specifically?"

So you must name the thing you want the listener to focus on if you want to eliminate that ambiguity, because there is no abstract word that wouldn't be subject to the same referential ambiguity.

Name this city.

Or if sometimes it's a country:

Name this country.

When you're looking for a name (of a thing, a place, a person, an animal, anything) you can use the verb name:

Name this musician.

Name this breed of dog.

Name this tool.

Name this tune.

It means "Speak (or write) the common name of" what you are being shown, or of what you are listening to.

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