How can I handle this relative adverb ' where'?
October 25, 2021 6:50 PM   Subscribe

This is from The Moon and Sixpence. There are two sentences. 1] The woman where I get my bread recommended me...2] he got his commission through the baker from whom he bought his bread...The woman is the baker.My question is the difference between 'where' and 'from whom'. How can I use them differently?
posted by mizukko to Writing & Language (8 answers total)
"The woman where I get my bread" sounds odd to my ear, like the speaker sees her as a bakery not a baker. (For that matter so does "recommended me" unless the sentence ends in "for this position.") Usually you'd say something like "The woman at the place where I buy my bread," or "The woman I buy my bread from..."

I haven't read the book, though.
posted by shadygrove at 7:03 PM on October 25, 2021

"From whom" is more formal sounding. "The woman where I get my bread" sounds like something a person might say in casual conversation. "The baker from whom he bought his bread" is the kind of thing you might see in writing but you'd be unlikely to hear anyone talking that way in ordinary casual conversation.

My initial thought was that "the woman where I get my bread" is not really correct because a woman is not a place and "where" refers to a place. (It would be correct to say "the shop where I get my bread" or, if you wanted to sound overly formal, "the shop from which I get my bread.") I was thinking of it as a shortcut for "the woman who owns the shop where I get my bread." But then it occurred to me that you could also read it as meaning "the woman who is at the place where I get my bread," and in that case I wouldn't call it grammatically incorrect. It's like "the stop sign where the gravel road meets the highway."

As far as how to use "where" and "from whom" yourself, "where" should in theory only be used to refer to places. (In actual conversation, people sometimes use it in other ways.) "From whom" refers to a person.
posted by Redstart at 7:12 PM on October 25, 2021 [2 favorites]

The "where" in sentence 1 is nonstandard and somewhat colloquial. It's almost a form of synecdoche -- she's standing in for the place where she works.

A good writer can flesh out a character just by how they talk. Sometimes this can be very broad (like with Mark Twain) but in other cases a turn of phrase here and there will make all the difference. The great and frustrating thing about reading 100-year-old books is that the connotations the author intends from these seem very foreign to us and are often lost on us. I believe that this is the case here.
posted by goingonit at 7:13 PM on October 25, 2021 [4 favorites]

It sounds odd to me, too, but I'm American and the author was British and writing in the early 1900s, so it's possible that phrasing was more common then. "From whom" is easier to understand but overly formal. (shadygrove, yes, the first sentence was a response to how he got a job.)
posted by pinochiette at 7:13 PM on October 25, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: "at the bakery" is implied in that first sentence: "The woman (at the bakery, at the place, at the shop) where I get my bread recommended me." One could also have said "The woman at the bakery recommended me." but if you live in place with more than one bakery it might require more clarification: "which bakery?" "the one where I get my bread."

The first sentence assumes the listener knows where one purchases bread; it's more important that it's a specific place where the speaker purchases their bread. It's sort of an informal, shortened way of saying "The woman from whom I get my bread recommended me." however using where implies a place the speaker goes to; "..from whom I get my bread..." could also mean a servant, landlady, cook or housekeeper of some kind in the place the speaker lives.
posted by oneirodynia at 8:08 PM on October 25, 2021 [4 favorites]

The fuller context is apparently
"No. I've got a commission. I'm painting the portrait of a retired plumber for two hundred francs."

"How did you manage that?"

"The woman where I get my bread recommended me. He'd told her he was looking out for someone to paint him. I've got to give her twenty francs."
So it looks like in this case
(a) it really is 'the woman who works at the place where I get my bread'
(b) the "recommended me" is indeed using "me" as the direct object
posted by trig at 9:17 PM on October 25, 2021 [1 favorite]

The first is quite informal (and probably wouldn't sound idiomatic in many English dialects), the second quite formal. So you can use them to achieve different registers of formality, but they don't really have different connotations of meaning.
posted by praemunire at 8:32 AM on October 26, 2021 [1 favorite]

(BTW, it's not a relative adverb, it's a relative pronoun. It just doesn't sound like one because the antecedent doesn't quite match it. "The place where I bought my bread" or "The woman who sold me bread" involve relative pronouns, right?)
posted by praemunire at 8:35 AM on October 26, 2021

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