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How can I say "Where does this map belong to" that asks about where the map is showing, using the "Where". Is this sentence below right?:

Where is it the map of?

I create the question above following the form of the question below:

What do you think of?

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    My inclination would be to stick with what: "What is it a map of?" Using where is certainly defensible, though.
    – Hellion
    Dec 18, 2015 at 15:40
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    What place is this a map of?
    – wariya
    Dec 18, 2015 at 15:41
  • I like @Hellion's suggestion and its variants: "What's that map of?" but you might also say, "Where is this map for?" which essentially asks, "Where might I find this map useful?" Incidentally, "What do you think of" is either not grammatical if it's intended to ask, "What do you think of this?" or unidiomatic in the case of, "What are you thinking about?"
    – Jim
    Dec 18, 2015 at 17:57
  • You can ask, "This is a map of what?" "Is this a map of a city?" "Is this a map of Europe?" etc. Sep 14, 2016 at 4:08
  • "Where" is grammatically correct but would be unusual for a native speaker to say. The question's title struck me as very odd until I thought about it and realized that it is technically correct. A native speaker would say "What is this a map of?"
    – fixer1234
    Apr 22, 2017 at 22:11

4 Answers 4

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The Strand magazine once ran the following anecdote:

When a memorandum passed round a certain Government department, one young pedant scribbled a postscript drawing attention to the fact that the sentence ended with a preposition, which caused the original writer to circulate another memorandum complaining that the anonymous postscript was "offensive impertinence, up with which I will not put."

However "informal" ending a sentence with a preposition might be, it is not nearly as bad as twisting the syntax to avoid the purported error at the expense of clarity and euphony.

I would stress, thought, a map does not depict "wheres" -- it depicts "whats".

"Where" refers to the spatial relationship between two things. Consider:

"What is this place?"

"It is the house where I was born."

In the question, "what" refers to an object. Any sort of description of the object would be an appropriate response.

In the answer, the house is described in spatial relationship to another thing, the event of the speaker's birth, so "where" is used.

Now consider:

"Where is this place?"

"It's in downtown Petaluma."

The question is asking for spatial location. A description of the significance of the place or its history or anything else would not be responsive. You have to discuss its location.

A map does not (of itself) answer a where question. It shows some physical thing. The fact that the thing is a possible location means nothing. The question "Where are you tattooed?" could be answered with "On my ass", but if you saw a photo of my ass, you would not ask, "Where is this a photo of?" You'd have a lot of questions, but not that one.

The correct way to ask the question is either

What is this a map of?

or

Of what is this a map?

whichever you find sounds more pleasing.

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Because I cannot comment I'll say this here in response to Era's answer. There is nothing grammatically incorrect about ending a sentence with a preposition. The whole idea of it stems from a few writers several hundred years ago (when England used Latin in politics and thought it a superior language) that saw that Latin doesn't end sentences with prepositions and wanted English to follow that. Of course, they ignored the fact that Latin couldn't do it because it has no prepositions. The idea caught on and writers began to copy it. The only reason anyone still teaches that rule today is because they see somewhat old writers doing it and call it a rule but it was never grammatically incorrect. Ending a sentence with a preposition is perfectly natural and correct.

To answer your question, I'd use "what is this a map of" or "where in the world is this region shown in the map."

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    Latin most certainly does have prepositions. They are just always followed by an (if I remember correctly) ablative or an accusative. That is why Latin sentences could not end with a preposition.
    – Jascol
    Dec 18, 2015 at 16:49
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    I never said it was grammatically incorrect. Formal English is full of such artificial rules. Contractions are perfectly fine in English too, but don't expect to be taken seriously if you put them in an academic paper.
    – Era
    Dec 18, 2015 at 17:15
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    Latin can end a sentence with a preposition. It occours especially in poetry where the scansion had to be maintained. The case of the associated noun, ablative, accusative or dative ensured the meaning.
    – Chenmunka
    Dec 18, 2015 at 17:23
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The alternatives in the comments are fine, but also "Where is it a map of?" is perfectly acceptable. Two important things to note:

  1. It is informal. In formal writing, it is bad practice to end a sentence with a preposition (of).

  2. Use a map, not the map. For any given place there may be many maps of that place. The map you are speaking about is one of these maps, so it is a map of that place.

Since my comment on formal/informal has been grossly misunderstood, I'll explain: Formal writing involves using a set of commonly accepted usage practices. It is not more grammatically correct, and the usage practices are all essentially arbitrary. There is a degree of leeway in what is acceptable, which varies depending on the precise context and who is reading it. The historical origin of the preposition rule has led many people to frown on the rule, but it is no more or less grammar-based than anything else in formal writing. The fact that it is unpopular certainly gives it more leeway than some other practices, in that more people are willing to accept sentences ending in prepositions in formal writing. It should be noted that you should absolutely never wrangle your way out of ending a sentence in a preposition ("This is something up with which I will not put!"). Good formal writing requires style and flexibility so as to sound natural without reverting to completely conversational language.

No grammatical rules are hard and fast. Even formal language is constantly evolving, but students of English should not generally try to push the envelope. Just as with painting, you should understand the "rules" before you break them. Is the preposition rule an important one? Certainly not. However, it is something to be aware of. Pedants are frequently the audience of formal writing, and you always want to write to your audience. In OP's case specifically, I don't think the intention is to be anything other than conversational, so there is no problem with ending the sentence with "of".

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    "Of where is this a map?" No! "Of what is this a map" No! "What map is this?" That doesn't quite mean the same thing. I don't think there is any alternative to a preposition that works to end that sentence with. Dec 18, 2015 at 16:09
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    The solution is almost never to simply reorder the sentence. Good writing in a formal context means rewriting to avoid bad constructions.
    – Era
    Dec 18, 2015 at 16:12
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    I don't see you suggesting any reasonable alternatives. "What place is depicted by this map?" Much longer and too convoluted. Dec 18, 2015 at 16:12
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    Good writing means ignoring, when appropriate, prescriptive grammarians who promulgate rules which have no basis in fact. Dec 18, 2015 at 16:18
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    I think the idea that it's "okay" to end a sentence with a preposition in informal contexts, but that it's "bad practice" in formal contexts is just bunk. It's a completely normal feature of English, and always has been - in all contexts (except perhaps when writing a school essay that will be assessed by a misinformed pedantic teacher). Dec 18, 2015 at 16:34
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Where is this a map of?

is fine in informal contexts, as Era discussed at length. Ending a sentence with a preposition is fine and natural as Ana mentioned, but it's still going to get you lower marks on many tests and a stink eye from some grammatical pedants until you know about which ones simply can't be avoided (What are you talking about?) and which ones really are considered to show poor education (Where are you going to?). @FumbleFingers can be overstated about it but many of the ell posters are precisely being graded by misinformed pedantic teachers.

In any case, the more natural expressions in English for this question are

Where is this?

(while gesturing to some part of the map) if you're curious about a particular location shown on the map and

What is this a map of?

if you mean the entire thing. The "proper" way to say the same thing without leaving a preposition at the end would be something like "What does this map show?" but it's a rather stilted way of talking unless you're trying to figure out a coded treasure map. "Pardon me, but what is the region that is depicted upon this map?" might be a good way to make a friend, just because the person you're asking will be so charmed by your bizarre way of asking questions.

As a side note: What do you think of isn't an actual English sentence. You could ask someone What are you thinking of? or What do you think of X? or What do you think of when you are Ying? but you can't just leave it sitting there vague and outside of time the way you are. People think of absurd numbers of things within their lifespans.

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