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.
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: http://gmat.magoosh.com/questions/1121