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GMAT Sentence Correction: Where to Use “where”

Master this devilish distinction on GMAT Sentence Correction

GMAT Sentence Correction is a question type where even one’s everyday sense of language might lead one astray.”

The sentence above is self-referential, insofar as it contains a very natural sounding grammatical mistake.  The word “where” is used incorrectly.   Here’s the scoop.


Relative Pronoun

A relative pronoun is a pronoun that introduces a dependent (or subordinate) clause.   The following are examples of correct uses of relative pronouns: in each sentence, the relative pronoun is in underlined.

1) Any man who hates dogs and children can’t be all bad.

2) That which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

3) Do not ask for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

4) The play’s the thing wherein to catch the conscious of the king.


(Kudos for recognizing the quotes!) Notice that some relative pronouns moonlight in other grammatical roles; for example, “who” and “which” also function as interrogative pronoun.  Also, unless you happen to be the Melancholy Dane, you need not integrate the word “wherein” into your everyday vocabulary.


“Where” as a Relative Pronoun

One role of the word “where” is as a relative pronoun.

4) Where troubles melt like lemon drops . . . that’s where you’ll find me.

5) Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.

As in these example, “where” always denotes a physical place, a physical location in the spacetime continuum.


The PROBLEM with Where

People very naturally use words that literally denote space & spatial relationships to talk metaphorically about all sorts of abstract relationships (“the landscape of memory”, “the distance between thought and action,” “There’s a single thread that runs through all my teachings.”)  That’s fine, but on the GMAT, particular with the word “where”, we have to be more literal.

For the purposes of GMAT Sentence Correction, when “where” is used as a relative pronoun, its antecedent must be a tangible physical location.



. . . the [town/house/planet/river/backyard/opera house] where such-and-such  happens . . . .



. . . the [situation/illness/life stage/philosophical  movement/novel] where such-and-such  happens . . . .


Almost always in sentences of the latter cases, the word “where” can be replaced by the words “in which” to correct the sentence.

Here’s a related GMAT SC practice question:

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4 Responses to GMAT Sentence Correction: Where to Use “where”

  1. luq February 15, 2014 at 12:19 pm #

    when should we use ‘where’s’?
    In this sentence, should i use ‘where’ or “where’s” to begin a question??
    example : ________ (where/where’s) the next destination?..

    • Mike MᶜGarry
      Mike February 15, 2014 at 2:42 pm #

      Dear Luq,
      The contraction “where’s” is short for “where is”. This is extremely casual, and would NEVER appear on the GMAT SC. Obviously, every sentence needs a verb, so the fragment, “Where the next destination?” is incomplete. This is complicated by the fact that, in very sophisticated writing, especially in a series of sentences, the verb is dropped and implied: “Where, the man of virtue? Where, the person who can deliver us from this situation?” That’s highly rhetorical, and you don’t have to worry about such structures appearing on the GMAT SC.
      Does all this make sense?
      Mike 🙂

  2. Rajat April 26, 2013 at 5:44 am #

    Hi Mike,

    Is wherein always wrong on the GMAT?

    Also in the sentence- ‘the man who hates dogs cannot be called bad’ the subordinate clause is ‘who hates dog’ right?

    • Mike MᶜGarry
      Mike April 26, 2013 at 10:34 am #

      Rajat —
      The words “wherein” and “whereupon” are particularly fancy, and many folks neither use them frequently nor understand them well. This makes them ripe for GMAT error patterns on SC, but they also could appear in a correct answer.
      In the famous W.C Fields quote, “Any man who hates dogs and children can’t be all bad”, the word “who” is a relative pronoun, and thus, the phrase “who hates dogs and children” is a relative clause, a kind of subordinate clause.
      Does all this make sense?
      Mike 🙂

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