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.

 

Correct:

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

 

Incorrect:

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

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  • Mike MᶜGarry

    Mike served as a GMAT Expert at Magoosh, helping create hundreds of lesson videos and practice questions to help guide GMAT students to success. He was also featured as "member of the month" for over two years at GMAT Club. Mike holds an A.B. in Physics (graduating magna cum laude) and an M.T.S. in Religions of the World, both from Harvard. Beyond standardized testing, Mike has over 20 years of both private and public high school teaching experience specializing in math and physics. In his free time, Mike likes smashing foosballs into orbit, and despite having no obvious cranial deficiency, he insists on rooting for the NY Mets. Learn more about the GMAT through Mike's Youtube video explanations and resources like What is a Good GMAT Score? and the GMAT Diagnostic Test.