Distinguishing Between Where & Which in Relative Clauses

The primary distinction between “where” and “which” in relative clauses is that “where” always indicates a location, while “which” can refer to a person or a thing. “Where” is a relative adverb, whereas “which” is a relative pronoun; both of these words can be used in relative clauses. The difference between “where” and “which” in relative clauses depends on the type of information they add to a sentence.

Key Takeaways

  • Where in relative clauses always indicates a location, while which can refer to a person or a thing.
  • Where is a relative adverb, and which is a relative pronoun.
  • The difference between where and which in relative clauses depends on the type of information they add to a sentence.

What is a Relative Clause?

A relative clause is a type of dependent clause that cannot stand alone in a sentence. It provides more information about the sentence and essentially functions as an adjective. A relative clause typically begins with a relative pronoun. The most commonly used relative pronouns in English are who, that, and which. A relative pronoun in a relative clause typically replaces a noun, noun phrase, or pronoun. Here are some examples of relative clauses:
He is wearing the shirt I gave him.
The man who stole my wallet has been arrested.

There are two types of relative clauses: defining clauses and non-defining clauses.

Defining Clause:
Defining clauses, also known as restrictive relative clauses or identifying relative clauses, add essential information to the sentence. They help to identify a specific person or thing from a larger group. For example:
The students who do not study will fail the exam.
The accident that happened yesterday was the truck driver’s fault.

Non-Defining Clause:
Non-defining clauses are the opposite of defining clauses. They add additional information to the sentence. Removing a non-defining clause will not change the overall meaning of a sentence. They are always set off from the rest of the sentence by commas. For example:
My aunt, who was born in Paris, lived most of her life overseas.
He is always late, which is a really bad habit.

How to Use Where in Relative Clauses?

Where is a relative adverb, not a relative pronoun. However, it is sometimes used at the beginning of a relative clause. We use where in relative clauses to indicate a place.
The corner store, where we usually buy our food, was robbed.
This is the place where Lady Elizabeth was killed by highwaymen.
Baker Street is the street where Sherlock Holmes lived.

How to Use Which in Relative Clauses?

Which is a relative pronoun. It is one of the most used relative pronouns in a relative clause. Traditionally, this relative pronoun was used in the formation of non-defining relative clauses. As mentioned above, this type of relative clause gives additional information to a sentence. For example:
The festival, which lasted all day, ended with fireworks.
He has missed his bus, which means he is going to be late.

In modern usage, many people use this relative pronoun with defining clauses as well. Most people consider both uses grammatically correct. However, it is better to use the traditional grammar rule (which in the non-defining relative clause) in formal writing.

Summary – Where vs Which in Relative Clauses

Where is a relative adverb while which is a relative pronoun. The main difference between where and which in relative clauses is that where in relative clauses always indicate a location whereas which can indicate a person or a thing.

Gil Tillard
Gil Tillard
Gil Tillard is an accomplished writer with expertise in creating engaging articles and content across various platforms. His dedication to research and crafting high-quality content has led to over 5 years of professional writing and editing experience. In his personal life, Gil enjoys connecting with people from diverse backgrounds and cultures. His curiosity and eagerness to learn from others fuel his passion for communication. He believes that engaging with strangers can be both enlightening and enjoyable, making it easier to strike up conversations and expand one's horizons.


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