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I'm studying English pronouns and my book says that the sentence "the way in which" is incorrect and I have to use, instead, only "the way". Is it true? And if so, why?

Here are some sentences:

1) That's the way in which the world goes round.

2) That's the way in which I like it.

3) Now we'll consider the two ways in which aircraft can fly.

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Really need a bit more context... –  Tim Aug 30 at 20:15
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It's fair to say that in which is usually/always superfluous in such contexts, but the idea that it's therefore "incorrect" is just ludicrous. OP should probably bin whatever book he got this from - it's just opinionated pedantry, not really helpful if you want to know how native speakers actually use English (i.e. - we include lots of "unnecessary" words, all the time). –  FumbleFingers Aug 30 at 20:35
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With your examples, I'd say that 'That's the way in which I like it' sounds outlandish, and I'd advise very strongly against it. 'That's the way in which the world goes round' sounds starchy, and non-idiomatic: I wouldn't use it myself. 'Now we'll consider the two ways in which aircraft can fly' sounds the better option, slightly formal and distancing the comical directional reading. –  Edwin Ashworth Aug 30 at 20:40
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The point underlying Edwin's objections is that "That's the way in which I like it" and "That's the way in which the world goes round" are unidiomatic/incorrect because "the way in which..." means "the mechanism or phenomenon by means of which [something occurs or is done]". Clearly, for your query sentences this is only applicable to "Now we'll consider the two ways in which aircraft can fly". That being said, on the face of it, whoever issued the proscription against "the way in which" is incorrect because they have failed to acknowledge this valid use of the expression. –  Erik Kowal Aug 30 at 21:21
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This is a paradigmatic 'baby rule', like "never talk to strangers": a rule you teach beginners to prevent some mistake they're very likely to make, but which can be discarded when they know enough to recognize the boundaries of the rule's relevance. –  StoneyB Aug 30 at 21:57

2 Answers 2

The Corpus of Contemporary American English has 2151 cites for "the way in which" and the British National Corpus has 2574. For "the ways in which", the figures are 2127 and 788. To put that into perspective, both corpora combined barely have 200 cites for "black car".

This goes to show that "the way(s) in which" is not only perfectly grammatical and idiomatic, but also extremely common. So the rule from your book is complete and utter nonsense.

Of course there will always be particular situations in which the phrase is not idiomatic, or even ungrammatical, but then again the same applies to "black car". That is something that has to be decided on a case-by-case basis. As several commenters have pointed out already, the first two of your three example sentences indeed do not work. But the third one actually does. The difference being that in the former two, "the way" is equivalent to "how", while in the last one, "the two ways" refers to two actual mechanisms.

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The key is to think about the actual word "way" and the preposition it implies.

If you talk about a particular way you can go, do you say "it's a way you can go in"? (I know that "a way, in which you can go", would be the grammatically correct phrase, but the former gives the mind a paradigm through which it can gain another path to the meaning).

To my mind, you go through a way.

An example: "Here! Go through this way!"

Yes, yes, people also say, "Here! Go in this way", if they are talking about taking ingress. However, you would still go into a place (which is implicit in the example phrase) through a way:

Example (and most grammatically correct): "Here! Go in through this way!"

So, to my mind, the correct preposition for "way" is "through".

Vis-a-vis:

1) That's the way through which the world goes round.

2) That's the way through which I like it.

3) Now we'll consider the two ways through which aircraft can fly.

Now, the first two sound a little weird. But, if you consider that the "ways" in all these contexts are simply a path of events, methods, causes, etc. leading up to/enabling the predication of the result i.e. the world going round/liking it/aircraft flying, this grammar is quite correct.

So:

1) "That's the way through which the world goes round."

Example: "Money makes the world go round"

Extrapolation: The pursuit of money is what motivates society (to move; the metaphorical world (not Earth) going round).

Paradigm: The pursuit of money (and its pertaining causes) is the causal path to (way
through) which result is the world going round.

2) "That's the way through which I like it"

Example: "I've put that ornament on the mantle, and that's the way I like it"

Extrapolation: "The position of the ornament (as well as the things that led it being there i.e. I having put it there) results in my contentment with where the ornament is"

Paradigm: "Where the ornament has been placed (and the causal path to that) is the causal way through which I have achieved contentment with its location"

3) "Now we'll consider the two ways through which aircraft can fly.

Extrapolation: After having seen, previously, that the "way" through which things are done or exist tends to be an implied matter of a causal 'path to' or 'way through', we can logically surmise that the meaning of this sentence is:

"Now we'll consider the two causal ways through which a path of events can result in the aircraft flying"

A conclusion: We can extrapolate that the word 'way' is often used incorrectly. For example: 'Which way should I go', should be 'In which direction should I go?'. A 'way' is something through which you go. Another example: 'Show me some good ways to bake a cake', should be 'Show me some good methods to bake a cake'. 'Way' often replaces many words, because English is an incredibly, intellectually, lazy language. The same reason is why we have so many phrasal verbs: 'go in' instead of 'enter', 'hang on' instead of 'grasp', 'dig up' instead of 'disinter...', etc

Disclaimer: I have no references for these premises, because it is a theory borne of reason, not evidence. Language is hardly something you can prove through evidence; idioms, for example, are so subjective, and it could be argued that they cannot be based on precedent because anyone at any time could create a new one. Language, especially English, is a constantly evolving form and it perpetually adapts to the thought-structures and meanings which employ it. I would gleefully discuss with anyone who made a cogent, reasoned argument that provides a good basis to dispute what I've written, afore. However, I feel I would be wasting my time to engage with the dogma of an evidence based retort, as the two are incompatible. I hope my perspective can add a colour of light to your own interpretations.

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