In my mother tongue I can use the word where not only to describe something connected to a location, but also to substitute in which.

My question is: Is it correct to use where in a sentence like this?

Describe a situation where you had to show leadership.

Or it would be better to use in which instead?

  • Could "in that" be used instead of "in which"? – user80721 Jun 20 '14 at 9:49
  • @Flo: you shouldn't post questions in an answer box, or as a comment. Nobody will see them, and you won't get an answer. (Which in this case is "no".) – Peter Shor Jul 6 '14 at 22:50
  • @user80721 No, at least not in the context and meaning provided. If there is a situation, and you had to show leadership, you can use 'in which' 'for which' (any suitable preposition) or 'where' (because the preposition is telling you where). But 'that' is not a preposition. – Mitch Aug 6 '18 at 15:08

Both. Where is well understood as applying to time, figuratively at least, and the usage you give would be common.

Some would favour in which, especially in formal writing, so it might be advisable to use it in such cases. In very informal cases, it might seem slightly stuffy, but not so much that I'd advise strongly against it.

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    But note that there are also many cases where "in which" cannot be replaced by "where". For example (from the dictionary): "a coffin is a long box in which a dead person is buried". – Peter Shor Feb 8 '13 at 18:27
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    True, @PeterShor, but the more formal "wherein" is usable in that example, "a coffin is a long box wherein a dead person is buried". Spurred by that thought, I found this ELU question that addresses use of "wherein": english.stackexchange.com/questions/2725/… – Kristina Lopez Feb 15 '13 at 19:09
  • @PeterShor what distinguishes the cases in which 'in which' can be replaced by 'where' from the ones where it can't? Or is that a sufficiently complex issue that I should ask a separate question? – user1205901 - Reinstate Monica Oct 6 '14 at 3:41
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    @user1205901: When "in which" means physically inside of something, you can't replace it with "where". I don't know whether that's all of the cases or not. – Peter Shor Oct 6 '14 at 9:38

According my university textbook, "situation where" should be correct, although they do not say "situation in which" would be possible to use, however I would say it would be – but it sounds less formal to me in any case (but I'm not a native speaker).


"Where" is an adverb, so cannot modify a noun, "box". That is why the prepositional phrase "in which" is correct. It's not just a style issue.

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    Of course "where" can modify nouns. The nouns just have to be places. – Peter Shor Jul 6 '14 at 22:52

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