I'm interested in the following question:

I want to visit where my grandmother was born.

To me it seems like a noun clause because I could replace the clause with a noun. For example:

I want to visit Ireland.

Is this the correct way to check?

The definition I read for an adverbial clause states that Adverbial clauses of place modify the main verb in the sentence and provide information about the place that an action takes place. This definition has confused me about the difference between a noun clause and an adverbial clause.

How about the following sentences:

We can go wherever you want.

You can show me where it is.

Thanks for your help.


  • 2
    These are noun clauses, called "Headless/Free Relative Clauses", or "Embedded Question Complement Clauses". The initial wh-word where stands for '(the place) where' -- where can only refer to places -- and thus can be used as a noun clause. See here for more on complement clauses (the class to which this belongs). Oh, and that's a terrible definition of an adverb clause; don't trust that source again. Jun 3, 2015 at 18:48
  • Hi John, I'm having trouble opening your complement clauses link. Has the link been moved? Jun 10, 2015 at 14:14
  • Sorry, I mistyped it. The capital C in complements should have been lowercase. Since I can't edit it, here it is in clear, properly spelled: http://www.umich.edu/~jlawler/complements.pdf. Jun 10, 2015 at 19:43

5 Answers 5


If you insert the lacking "the place" you get:

  • I want to visit | the place where my grandmother was born.

The part after the vertical stroke is the direct object, consisting of the noun "the place" with a relative clause as attribut.

If you drop "the place" you have an elliptic construction, not elegant, but possible, "where my grandmother was born" serves as object in the sentence.


I typically try to figure these questions out by checking if I can add the phrase "the place" before the clause. I think all sentences work, and therefore they all are noun clauses.

  • 1
    "I'll be happy to talk to whoever answers the phone" is grammatical, but not "*I'll be happy to talk to the place who answers the phone". Specific solutions work for specific problems only; general solutions work everywhere. Jun 3, 2015 at 19:10
  • 1
    Patrick asked questions related to locations, so I simply used the phrase "the place".
    – RK01
    Jun 3, 2015 at 19:13
  • Cool. The person, the thing, the time, the way, the reason, all serve the same purpose, but not all wh-words work. You can't say, for instance, "I'll talk to who answers the phone" or "I want which is sitting on the shelf". And how can't be used with the way; it's either I like how he did it or I like the way he did it, but never *I like the way how he did it. Jun 3, 2015 at 19:17
  • Yes -- constituent tests (like the one that hyoungjin kim proposed) are used by linguists as one of many tools to suggest underlying syntactic structure for a sentence, but they're more like guidelines than hard-and-fast rules and can't really be applied blindly.
    – Sawbones
    Jun 3, 2015 at 19:26
  • The place who answers the phone sounds like he's standing in for the salmon of knowledge. Jun 3, 2015 at 22:08

One simple test for adverbials is that they tend to "float" around verbs. For example, the adverb "quickly" can appear before or after its verb (or verb phrase):

John quickly walked to the car.
John walked quickly to the car.
John walked to the car quickly.

In your cases, This doesn't work very well:

I want to visit where my grandmother was born.
*I want where my grandmother was born to visit. <-- not so great

In your examples, those phrases are noun phrases or noun clauses.


Stylistically, "I want to visit the place where my grandmother was born," or "I want to visit Ireland, where my grandmother was born," are more felicitous than "I want to visit where my grandmother was born." As @rogermue said, it's not elegant.


'Wherever' and 'where' are adverbs of place. They are adverbs because they represent the quality of the ambiguity of a places location, while also standing as the representation of the place itself, which makes it highly confusing. 'Visit,' 'go,' and 'show,' are the verbs which are being modified by these adverbs of place.

  • Welcome to EL&U. I don't think they are adverbs because they represent the quality of the ambiguity of a places location and your post doesn't add additional information to other answers. Please make sure that you take the tour and visit our help center for additional guidance.
    – user140086
    Jan 2, 2016 at 2:16

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