Certain intransitive verbs that take prepositional phrases to express location or motion toward will take where without a preposition as a corresponding object in relative or interrogative clauses. For example (I'm using CGEL's convention of using A and B as speaker tags):

A: Where did Mary take her brother? B: She took him to New York.

Here, ?Where did Mary take her brother to? seems grammatical, but a bit awkward.

A: Where is John standing? B: He's standing beside Platform 4, where the trains to Glasgow stop.

Here, *Where is John standing beside? seems ungrammatical. Although the independent-clause counterpart of Platform 4, where the trains to Glasgow stop is The trains to Glasgow stop at Platform 4, the relative clause #where the trains to Glasgow stop at is nonstandard, and *at where the trains to Glasgow stop simply ungrammatical; one would have to change the pronoun and say at which the trains stop or which the trains stop at. Similar phenomena exist with here and there:

A: Has Jamal flown to California? B: Yes, he flew there yesterday (not the marginally grammatical ?to there).

A: Is Jamal in Los Angeles now? B: Yes, he is there. (Not in there, which is restricted to use to things more container-like than cities, such as A: Is Jamal in that room? B: Yes, he's in there.)

This seems restricted semantically to location and motion toward, not motion from: Where did Mary go? demands the response She went to New York, not the syntactically identical She went from London. Examples like A: Where did Mary leave? B: She left London aren't quite ungrammatical, but they are irrelevant, because leave, unlike go, fly, or take someone to, takes a location as a proper direct object. (In any case, I'd expect A's question to elicit responses about motion through, such as She left via the front door.)

My question is this: Does this phenomenon have a standard name or a generally accepted analysis? In particular, are where, here, and there in the above examples better understood as adverbs, more akin to how, rather than as the objects of otherwise intransitive verbs? And is there a more precise explanation than mine of the semantic restrictions on the prepositional phrases that where can replace?

  • 1
    @YosefBaskin “Where is Mary take her brother to?” is completely grammatical. The to is not needed, and the version without it is more elegant; but there is absolutely nothing ungrammatical about leaving it in. Mar 2, 2017 at 17:34
  • Whenever I hop in a cab, the driver asks Where to?
    – deadrat
    Mar 2, 2017 at 18:36
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    @YosefBaskin: Re: "If I ask where are you, how can I know you are beside something?": That's a solid point, but consider echo questions. If we're on cell-phones in a loud place, and you ask "Where are you?" and I reply "I'm [inaudible]", I think you're more likely to respond with "You're beside what?" than with "You're beside where?"
    – ruakh
    Mar 5, 2017 at 1:04
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    Where is a locative preposition. It doesn't freely replace NP's. That's why Where's he standing beside is wrong. The gap in the interrogative clause there requires an NP, not locative PP. Besides won't take PPs as complements. In contrast, many other prepositions can take other PPs as complements. So you will be able to replace the embedded PP with an interrogative or relative where and leave the other prep untouched. Basically, as a rule of thumb, if you can put there after the preposition, you will be able to use it with where. Mar 23, 2017 at 15:32

3 Answers 3


'Where' asks about the location of a person or an object. In our example, "Where did Mary go?" while we know she went somewhere, it could be to, in, at, under, over, above, below, upstairs, downstairs, etc...Because the answer relates to a location, the answer could be, amongst many others: She is IN the shower; She went TO the store; She is AT the bus stop; She is OVER there.

But we can't assume she went 'to' somewhere as we sought information about her destination. " Where did she go to" only works if we had said ' Which store did she go to?" instead. Keeping into perspective the situation Where did Mary go could be overturned if in fact she didn't go anywhere, or turns out she's still here!


This seems similar to, but not exactly, what linguists call a dative shift or dative alternation.

From a linguistics Masters thesis by Justin Rill:

Many languages exhibit alternate syntactic realizations of ditransitive verbal constructions. For example, English features both a prepositional construction (Mary gave candy to the children) and a Double Object construction (Mary gave the children candy), a phenomenon known as “Dative Shift”

Other examples from a thesis by Manon Buysee

(6) The teacher gave all the students a dictionary.

(7) A dictionary was given all the students (by the teacher).

(8) All the students were given a dictionary (by the teacher).

Essentially, dative shift refers to alternating between a prepositional phrase or a "double object construction." It doesn't exactly match your example though, because neither of your options really has a double object construction.

She took him there

She took him to there.

On this linguistics blog, that's just referred to as "preposition dropping."

The ozone layer still prevents any lethal UVC radiation reaching the earth.

The ozone layer still prevents any lethal UVC radiation from reaching the earth.

In your first example, "where" could take a preposition or not:

Where did Mary take her brother?

To where did Mary take her brother?

You ask:

In particular, are where, here, and there in the above examples better understood as adverbs?

Possibly. "Where" as an adverb is defined in M-W as

at, in, or to what place

where is the house / where are we going

It seems reasonable to apply that definition to the structure you're referring to.

To what place did Mary take her brother?

Mary took him to New York.

I don't know of a term or standard analysis for this, it seems to me like the words "where," "there," and "here" are indeed being used as adverbs, like you suggested.

I took him there.

There (adverb):

in or at that place

Here (adverb):

in or at this place

  • As Araucaria said in a comment, "there", "here" and "where" act more similar to prepositional phrases than to adverbs (PPs can be used adverbially, but they have their own rules for distribution that aren't completely the same as those for adverbs).
    – herisson
    Apr 29, 2017 at 21:21

I think of it as a convenience that "caught on" and is now acceptable in all but formal or educated spoken English, or in what grammarians might call "careful" written English.


This was the movie in which Heath Ledger came to national attention.

More casual, not always acceptable:

This was the movie where Heath Ledger came to national attention.

I try to avoid it in almost anything written, though I'm sure I sometimes use it in casual conversation. When speaking to a university professor, I might be careful to use "in which" instead because no literal positioning or location is specified and when in doubt, it's usually best to go with traditional usage.

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