Why is this sentence wrong:

London Bridge is one of the most popular places where people want to visit.

The correct version should be which or that. Why?

  • 3
    In a nutshell, the safest answer should probably be one that uses "that" or no relative word at all: "London Bridge is one of the most popular places [(that) people want to visit]." imo.
    – F.E.
    Oct 2, 2014 at 19:13
  • 1
    As I looked some answer, the nutshell is that London Bridge is more a something than somewhere.
    – Ahmad
    Aug 4, 2015 at 19:45

6 Answers 6

  • That's the shop which sells elephants.
  • This is an elephant which the shop sold ____ .

In these sentences, the relative clauses have been marked out in bold. Each relative clause is like a small sentence inside the bigger sentence. In these relative clauses, I used the pronoun which. I could use the pronoun that instead. They are both okay for this kind of sentence, where the relative clause is restrictive.

  1. which sells elephants.

  2. which the shop sold ________ .

In clause (1), which is the subject of the verb sells. In (2), which is the object. It has moved from that gap at the end. We can see that which is behaving like a Noun in these sentences. This is because which is a Noun! It's a special kind of Noun, a Pronoun. Whenever we need to replace a noun inside a relative clause we use which or that - or who if it is a person.

Now let's have a look at a different sentence:

  • I play football in the park.

We can divide that sentence into different sections. The Subject is I. The Predicator (the verb) is play and the Object is football. But what about that funny bit at the end, in the park? What's that?

In the park here is an ADJUNCT. Adjuncts like this that get put at the end of sentences usually begin with a Preposition like in, on or at, for example. Adjuncts can also sometimes be Noun Phrases or Adverbs:

  • I play football every day.
  • I play football daily.

But most often Adjuncts like this begin with a preposition. Adjuncts usually tell us information about why, when, how, who with or where something happened. That kind of thing. This information is always extra information. It isn't part of the essential grammar of the sentence. I play football still makes sense without an adjunct at the end.

The relative word where doesn't usually replace a noun! It replaces an adjunct or a preposition phrase - ones that tell us about where. (Remember that an adjunct will normally include a preposition and a noun). This also means it can't replace the Subject or Direct Object of a verb. It also can't usually replace a noun which is the object of a preposition (although remember that preposition phrases can also be the complements of prepositions). Where nearly always replaces a preposition phrase or an adjunct.

In the original Poster's sentence

  • London Bridge is one of the most popular places wwww people want to visit ____.

We can see that that gap at the end there with the missing bit, is the Direct Object of the verb visit. We don't expect to see a preposition after visit either. This word can't be an adjunct or a preposition phrase. It looks like it must be a Noun Phrase. Therefore, we need to use which or that. A good rule-of-thumb test to see if it should be which or where is to see if you could put the word it or them in the gap. If you can, you can use which:

  • London Bridge is one of the most popular places which /people want to visit it/.

If you can't but you could put the word there in the gap, then you should use where:

  • ... the house where /I used to live there/

Edit note

For some speakers, this rule -that where can't replace direct objects doesn't seem to be so strict. See F.E.'s comment about his variety of English. For my dialect - I'm a British English speaker - this rule is quite strict.

Hope this helps!

  • +1 for an easy read, and it has a good rule-of-thumb that could be helpful to EFL speakers, especially when they are taking a test. :) -- (Though, that rule does seem kinda similar to the "who vs whom" rule where one is expected to look at the case of the corresponding gap in the relative clause to determine the case of the relative pronoun.)
    – F.E.
    Oct 1, 2014 at 17:56
  • @F.E. Re the who - whom, well, kinda:) But yes, the more convoluted the sentence and the more marginal the verb (- as well as the preceding noun) the less it seems to matter. Also how much room there is for ambiguity. That's the restaurant which we ate is definitely wrong. Why? (shrugs) There might be a better story but that's the one I know. Where seems to be a preposition and which a noun - or determinative. Is there a better story? Oct 1, 2014 at 21:48
  • Which/that definitely sounds correct to me but I was unable to give an answer as to why it is correct and I'd been struggling with this question since a student asked me, so thank you for such a clear and succinct answer. Oct 2, 2014 at 11:05

London Bridge is one of the most popular places where people want to go.


London Bridge is one of the most popular places which people want to visit.

Get the difference? :)

The object of the verb "Visit" would directly be the place/person. (Example: Visit New York, Visit Your Mother, etc.)

Whereas for the verb "Go" to have an object it will have to be suffixed with "To". (Example: Go To New York, Go To London, etc.)

This difference makes for the which (OR) where word to start that clause. Hope this helps! :)


Why is this sentence wrong:

  • London Bridge is one of the most popular places where people want to visit.

The correct version should be which or that. Why?

That's a good question, as I'm wondering why "where" is considered to be wrong.

In my idiolect, the "where" version sounds okay. Actually, it sounds better to me than the other two versions. But I'm just speaking for myself here.

Could you provide the grammar source (and an excerpt from it) that is making that judgement?


LONG ANSWER VERSION: Your example involves multiple issues:

  1. That example has the form of a construction that involves a "one of X" where it is modified by a relative clause -- which in itself is a topic that comes up often: that is, does the relative clause modify "one" or does it modify the "X"? (Related info in 2002 CGEL, page 506, subsection "Singular override with one of X who …" Also, this topic is usually discussed in a good usage dictionary, such as Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage.)

  2. The relative's antecedent involves a superlative modifier ("most"), or it could if the "X" is seen as being the antecedent. If the superlative "most" is seen as being a significant part of the antecedent, then a non-wh type of relative is usually preferred here. That means either "that" or nothing is usually preferred -- not "where" nor "which". (Related info in 2002 CGEL, page 1054, subsection "(f) Nominals with superlative modifiers: non-wh preferred").

  3. The antecedent involves a locative expression ("places"), and: "Where takes locative expressions as antecedent; within the relative clause it functions as adjunct of spatial location, goal complement, or complement of a locative preposition" (page 1050, 2002 CGEL).

  4. The antecedent for the relative "where" involves the noun "place", which means that sometimes the "where" can be replaced with a non-wh alternate. That is: the "where" can sometimes be omitted entirely; and sometimes, for some speakers, the "where" can be replaced by "that", though it might not be considered to be fully acceptable. (Related info in 2002 CGEL, page 1053, subsection "(c) Time, reason, place, path, and means", within which there is this tidbit: "Relatives introduced by where, by contrast, do not in general alternate with the non-wh type except where the antecedent is a very general noun such as place: …")

So, these above issues all seem to be involved, which makes things complicated, and would perhaps make any simplistic absolute evaluation difficult to make, or more likely it would be dubious. A native English speaker would probably be best served by relying on their ear, imo. For my ear (AmE speaker), the "where" version is fine.

(ADDED: But, if you are in school or are taking a test, then you probably should give the teacher or the tester the answer they want.)

NOTE: The 2002 CGEL is the 2002 reference grammar by Huddleston and Pullum et al., The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (CGEL).

  • Hmmm, hurts my ear a bit. Btw, there's no part 2, yet but there's kind of a part 1.75 ... Oct 1, 2014 at 15:17
  • @Araucaria From reading your answer-post, I remember seeing a "rule" like that (the one that you mentioned). I went searching through a couple of old grammar usage manuals that I still have, but couldn't find that rule (I think I threw out the books that had that rule in it). I think I've also seen that rule on "pop grammarian" websites, and other "grammar" sites, too. I looked a bit more into it, but the popular grammar books seem to have very little info on the relative "where". Interesting. (Must remember to use this "where" as a shibboleth for identifying certain types of speakers.)
    – F.E.
    Oct 1, 2014 at 18:03
  • If you said That's London Bridge where I visited last summer, is the where for you functioning like i) a DO ii)a locative complement iii) an adjunct?. Because I have a feeling that if you find the bridge where I visited ok, then you'll find I like that bridge. I visited there last summer ok. If this is the case it's not that where's got diffeent grammatical properties, it the syntax of visit, whcih is defferent ... Just a thought ... I'd be interested to know about i), ii) and iii). Oct 2, 2014 at 7:15
  • Thank you for your answer. The question was posed by my student from an exercise given by another teacher.I am a native BrE speaker and where definitely grates, it is interesting to know that it is acceptable in AmE. Oct 2, 2014 at 11:18
  • 1
    "...places where people want to spend time|live " does not hurt my ears in the way "...places where people want to visit" does. Aug 4, 2015 at 20:09

Where is a location that can be specified with various addressing schemes, such as a street address or longitude/latitude coordinates. People do not typically desire to visit 51.508053, -0.087711. Rather, they desire to visit something found at that location, in this case, London Bridge. We refer back to that something with the relative pronoun which.

It can get complicated with 10 Downing Street. :-)


Complicated extra notes for teachers and grammar junkies

[This answer is a supplement to my main one which I posted yesterday.]

The notes in my other post derive from my own experience and knowledge gained from teaching and studying grammar. Readers may want to see what a vetted grammar source has to say about the use of where as a relative word. The following is from The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language Huddleston & Pullum, 2002, p.1050:

[W]ords belonging to the relative class are where, when, while, why ...

(footnote 6 here reads: "... we take why as an adverb and the others [where, when, while ...] as prepositions")



i She wanted to see the house(1) [ where(1) she had grown up].

ii They met in the journalists' club(1) [where(1) he went every Sunday afternoon].

iii She often climbed the knoll behind the mission(1) [from where(1) she could look down on roofs and people].

Where takes locative expressions as antecedent; within the relative clause it functions as adjunct of spatial location, goal complement, or complement of a locative preposition. A'double-variable' representation of [i] is "She wanted to see the house x; she had grown up in x": the "in" component is contributed by where together with its spacial location function, with the antecedent determining the value of the variable x. In [ii] we understand "to x", with the "to" component derivable from the goal function. And in [iii] we have "from x", with the "from" component overtly expressed.

[Where H&P have used underlining, I have had to use bold - underlining isn't available this website]

Notice that there is one type of function that is, importantly, noticeably missing from H&P's list of functions that where can have within a relative clause, namely Direct Object. This is because where, like most other prepositions cannot freely function as a Direct Object.

Secondly, with regard to the Goal Complement, note that Goal usually involves the idea of to. Usually goals are realised by the preposition to and a Noun Phrase. A few verbs, for example arrive, don't take to. Arrive can take at as well compounds such as into and onto. A very very few verbs ascribe a goal meaning to their Direct Object. (H&P mention the single verb reach, for example p.687). Where and its cousin there, replace both the goal marking preposition and the Noun Phrase. This is exactly the same as when they replace location markers such as in, on or at and Noun Phrases.

However, with Sources as opposed to Goals or Locations, the marker from usually needs to be overtly expressed. In these situations we can find from where and from there, in which where and there express locative meanings. From where in these situations is often replaceable by from which - because the original Location is, of course, already indicated by the Source. We can therefore just have from plus a Noun Phrase.

Because of this, in example [iii], we see the knoll behind the mission from where she could look down on roofs and people. We could just as easily say the knoll behind the mission, from which she could .... This is the kind of situation in which we might think that where in from where is representing a Noun instead of a Prepositional Phrase. It isn't, there in this situation retains its locative meaning. We have a preposition from, which is taking another locative Preposition Phrase where. This mirrors other usages of from such as from under the table, for example.

Note that in such examples, the usage tip about it/them and there holds good. Both are substitutable in the clause ...

  • /from it , she could look down .../
  • /from there, she could look down ../

... and both from which and from where are also acceptable. This tip by the way is just a helpful tip. It isn't a grammar rule!

Lastly, there may be some doubts here as to the acceptability of a place where people want to visit in the Original Poster's example. One or two posters here find it marginally acceptable. So I did a bit of research, to see if perhaps the usage I'm familiar with and have read about was one of several possible standard usages. I therefore looked up "where he visited" in quotes on Google, with 10 results per page. I examined the first ten pages giving a sample of 100 hits. Out of these where functioned as a direct object of a verb in only 3 cases. Of these three, two were phrases from captions not representing full sentences. In one of these, there were many different captions on the page. All began with Where he - he referring to Robert Burns. The other captions were Where he lived; Where he was; Where he lodged; Where he died; Where he stopped to water his horse and so forth. Given that the first two phrases are fixed for each example, the felicity of Where he visited cannot be relied upon, in my opinion. It was probably done so that there was not one example sticking out like a sore thumb.

The only fully fledged sentence with where as a direct object was in the following:

John Wesley - one of the founders of the Methodist Church visited this area a great deal. You can find out about where he visited and what he said about them at the Somerset Gateway website.

Given the dubious usage of them with where serving as an antecedent, the writer here has arguably not reproduced a standard English sentence. (Although it could of course be perfectly grammatical in their variety of English).

What this seems to show - although it is a very small sample size - is that standard users do seem to avoid where functioning as Direct Object of a verb. At most, 3% of the examples used where as a Direct Object, and these three examples are not good examples in general, because 2 were not from sentences, and the last was from a sentence of very dubious grammaticality in the first place. None of this, of course, indicates that it isn't the case that such usage isn't permitted in some varieties of English - it just seems to show that this is rare.

My advice then for teachers, would be to advise your students not to use where as a Direct Object. The other reason for this is that if they get this wrong the other way round, the result is very unlikely to be palatable - and this isn't going to be down to personal grammaticality judgements. See below:

  • That restaurant which I ate was very nice.

Hope this helps!

  • Since you're interested in this topic, you might want to also touch upon those situations where the preference is for a non-wh word: the most expensive place [(that) they wanted to visit]. (Notice how the OP's example uses "most" in its NP "one of the most popular places" -- which might or might not be a factor here in the OP's question.) -- Actually, if I were a teach, I might be preferring the null relative word, or the "that" relative here in the OP's example. I probably wouldn't accept "which".
    – F.E.
    Oct 2, 2014 at 18:58
  • That's really odd. My ear and your ear are completely different on that and on 'where '. Really odd. I wonder if that's a pond thing? I think my preference is the null. But teach wise if Ss are unsure about when they can use 'where' - not talking about marginal cases like this - I'd hang off adding the null into the mix yet. Re which/that, my ear's got no preference ... Neither of those is a 'rule' thing - just ears ... Oct 2, 2014 at 19:23
  • I don't think the thing with "most" (superlative) is a pond thingie, since 2002 CGEL discusses the preference for non-wh word/null for this type of situation -- and CGEL is BrE to me. Well, I'm marking up their judgments (in their book) that I disagree with as being BrE . . .
    – F.E.
    Oct 2, 2014 at 19:28
  • "This is the kind of situation in which we might think that 'where' in 'from where' is representing a Noun instead of a Prepositional Phrase. It isn't, there in this situation retains its locative meaning." <-- But "there" does represent an NP, the NP which is the knoll that she had climbed earlier. You could even replace the "where" with "it": From it, she could look down …"
    – F.E.
    Oct 2, 2014 at 19:41
  • @F.E. Hmm, I point out exactly that, that you could have "From it". But the point is, imo, "from it" = "from which", but "from where" is something more like "from at that place" or in this case "from on it", something like that. If it's not then "where" really can't be a preposition ... Oct 2, 2014 at 22:20

This answer is intended as a completion to all these excellent answers.

There is no doubt it is an English question even though in my language one would face a similar thing. But perhaps other languages have different approach to the subject..

IMHO there is a common sense question and the verb is the one which/that calls for the use of either which/that or where. Yet, sometimes both can go which/that and where but the meaning can change.

Imagine I used the following verbs: to go, to walk, to move, to play, etc. What word should we use, which/that or where?

Now imagine I used other verbs such as: to visit, to see, to paint, to watch, etc.

I don’t know if these observations can be framed into a particular grammar rule or they are simply a matter of common sense

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