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Across the web, you'll find various sites stating that 'in which' and 'where' are interchangeable.



However, 2b is wrong below. Perhaps are they not interchangeable only when 'which' refers to something that something else cannot physically be inside?

1a) This is the house in which I live.

1b) This is the house where I live.

2a) You have 2 hours in which to complete the test.

2b) *You have 2 hours where to complete the test.

2c) You have 2 hours which to complete the test in.

Thanks
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I think the further you move away from the spatial meaning of "in", the less well "where" works. For example "The house where I live" is OK for "The house in which I live", yet "The year where I was born" is not acceptable for "The year in which I was born". (In formal English, I find "The house in which I live" more satisfying than "The house where I live", but this could just be me, and the latter is certainly OK in everyday English.)

However, even when "in" has a spatial meaning, I'd be cautious about saying that "in which" and "where" are always interchangeable. Exceptions exist, one of which is an additional reason why your example #2 doesn't work: "where to" does not seem possible as an alternative to "in which to". For example, while "I have a box where I put my clothes" is OK, you can't say "I have a box where to put my clothes" for "I have a box in which to put my clothes" (the former sounds to me like it might be archaic English; I'm not sure if it was once allowable).
I think "in which" can't be replaced with "where" if it refers to time.

1. The period of my life in which I used to take drugs.
2. The period of my life when I used to take drugs.
3. The period of my life where I used to take drugs.
4. The period of my life I used to take drugs.

Number 1 and 2 should be fine. Number 3 sounds wrong. Number 4... I'm not sure, but it sounds like there's something missing.
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KooyeenI think "in which" can't be replaced with "where" if it refers to time.
I don't think it's just time though. As I mentioned, I think the same applies whenever the meaning of "in" deviates significantly from the spatial sense (the sense that something is enclosed in something else). For example:

"The principles in which/where I believe."

"The way in which/where he said it."

"The high esteem in which/where I held him."

In fact, even some contexts where a lot of the spatial "enclosed in" sense is retained don't work:

"The clothes in which/where I am dressed."

The original claim that "in which" and "where" are interchangeable is looking more and more dubious.
Mr WordyThe original claim that "in which" and "where" are interchangeable is looking more and more dubious.
You're right. Judging from the examples in Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, it seems "where" generally refers to places and situations (in relative clauses).
Place: This is the place where I hid the key.
Situation: ...until the patient reaches the point where he can walk safely.

The clothes in which I am dressed is a nice example. It might sound like it involves a "place", but I don't think it does. If you consider examples like "The man in black" and "The woman in the white hat", it's easy to see why there is no "place" involved.
This is what I think...
Good discussion guys. Thanks.

We all seem to agree that if the antecedent of 'which' is not a physical location that something can't be inside, then 'where' doesn't seem to work.
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English 1b3 if the antecedent of 'which' is not a physical location that something can't be inside
It doesn't need to be inside. I think it just needs to be in/on/around/at/... a place.
The book is on the table. The table where the book is (= on which).

However, there are some problems when something is "moving".

1. I am moving to that place. That's the place where I'm moving (to). ???

2. I'm going to shoot at that tree. That's the tree where I'm going to shoot (at) ???

I have trouble with those myself. Hopefully some native speakers will be able to help us.
We are now, of course, extending the question beyond "in which" to "to which", "at which" etc.

That's the place where I'm moving (to). -- Acceptable I guess, but I prefer "That's the place I'm moving to" (more formally you could of course say "That's the place to which I'm moving", but this would sound stilted in conversation).

That's the tree where I'm going to shoot at. -- No. It should be "That's the tree I'm going to shoot at."

That's the tree where I'm going to shoot. -- Possible, but it doesn't mean you'll be shooting at the tree, it means you'll be near the tree when you shoot.
Mr WordyThat's the place where I'm moving (to). -- Acceptable I guess, but I prefer "That's the place I'm moving to" (more formally you could of course say "That's the place to which I'm moving", but this would sound stilted in conversation).

That's the tree where I'm going to shoot at. -- No. It should be "That's the tree I'm going to shoot at."

That's the tree where I'm going to shoot. -- Possible, but it doesn't mean you'll be shooting at the tree, it means you'll be near the tree when you shoot.
Yes, it seems that "movement" can make these grammatical structures ambiguous, and so "where" is avoided in favor of the simple structures with no relative pronouns - Ex: that's the tree I'm going to shoot at.
And thanks for your comments, MrWordy!
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