What’s the difference between which and where?
such like these examples:
The building which I visited was 350 m tall.
The restaurant where my cousin works is really expensive.
My friend is taking me to a shopping centre which is huge.
This hotel where we spent our summer holiday last year.
The relative pronouns “which” and “where” specifically describe a place. “Where” is followed by a noun or pronoun.
That’s a great question as many students are confused by the way they are used in some sentences. The difference, however, is not too difficult to understand.
- Where, is an adverb.
- Which, is a pronoun and determiner.
Let’s use your sentences to answer the question and provide more details.
- The building which I visited was 350 m tall.
This sentence correctly applies the determiner “which,” to provide further information after the building had already been mentioned earlier in the sentence.
Which, can be used both before and after as a pronoun and determiner. Here are some further examples.
- Which coffee would you like, the cappuccino or expresso?
- The cappuccino has milk, but the expresso doesn’t, which one do you want?
- A cappuccino is not as strong as an expresso which has no milk.
- The restaurant where my cousin works is really expensive.
The where in this sentence is to not referring to the place but the situation of the cousin, because it was used after the place had already been mentioned. To prove this point, if we removed this part of the clause, the sentence still makes sense – The restaurant is really expensive.
However, if we reword the sentence and use which as a determiner, the focus of the sentence returns to the place/restaurant as we are also using ‘at’ as a preposition of place.
- The restaurant which my cousin works at is really expensive.
- My friend is taking me to a shopping center which is huge.
Again in this sentence which is used as a determiner to provide further information about the shopping center mentioned beforehand. It helps us understand that is is the shopping center which is huge and not the friend! (That could be embarrassing!)
- This hotel where we spent our summer holiday last year.
Technically this sentence should read, ‘this IS THE hotel where we spent our summer last year.’ Again the use of where in this sentence is to the situation, not the hotel, as it comes after the place has already been mentioned. To prove the point we could eliminate the word entirely and use the preposition ‘at’ instead.
- This is the hotel we spent our summer at last year.
To use where for the place itself, place the word before the noun.
- We can meet where the hotel is, the one that we spent summer at last year.
Just remember, which and where are not interchangeable alone, if swapped other parts of the sentence would need to be corrected as well. When changed they can modify the focus or meaning of the clause.
- If you are focusing on a situation or place use where.
- If you are making a distinction between two or more things, then use which.