went to where he used to live

Hi, Kis,

I'd like to know how those two possible sentences:

  • He went where he used to live
  • He went to where he used to live

sound to David and DocV. They sound terrible to me.

My feeling is that the adverbial clause does not work with the verb "go" (as well as with other verbs like "travel" or the transitive "visit") unless a more indefinite idea is meant to be conveyed, as in:

- He went where he wanted (also: He went wherever he wanted).

If a definite place is involved, some noun may be required:

  • He went to the place/house/town where he used to live as a child.

Now, if "where" follows the verb "go" in some other context, my impression is that "to" will be used to refer to a precise destination , and will be omitted when the place is more indefinite:

  • He went to  where she was (up to the exact place where she was).
  • He went where she was (more informal as well as less precise as to the place he ended up going to: not necessarily the exact place where she was, but perhaps to some nearby area).
Gustavo, Contributor posted:

I'd like to know how those two possible sentences:

  • He went where he used to live
  • He went to where he used to live

sound to David and DocV. They sound terrible to me.

Well, they would sound much better to me with the addition of "back" after "went." (Otherwise, like you, Gustavo, I should prefer "the place where.") "Go back" is actually considered a phrasal verb, one meaning of which is "return."

(a') He went back where he used to live.
(b') He went back to where he used to live.

The construction in (a') is found in the idiom "Go back where you came from" and its variants, like "He went back where he came from." "Went back where" tends not to be used very much outside that idiom. But (b') resembles a Beatles song:

"Get back. Get back.
Get back to where you once belonged." (source)

Granted, "get" is different from "go"; nevertheless, the structure is the same. I agree with your other remarks. Regarding the indefiniteness of the version without "to," I did think of one formal example, but it uses "whither":

"And Ruth said, Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God. Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the Lord do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me." (Ruth 1:16-17, KJV, emphasis mine)

Whither thou goest, I will go.
= I will go whither thou goest.
= I will go where you go.

David, Moderator posted:
(a') He went back where he used to live.
(b') He went back to where he used to live.
 

Yes, David, those two work nicely. The adverbial particle "back" in the phrasal verb "go back" completes what seems to be missing in Kis's original sentences, that is, an adverb that is more effective than the clause "(to) where he used to live" as a complement of the verb "go."

Even though "go" and "back" do form a lexical unit in the phrasal "go back," in most phrasals with verbs of movement the adverbial particle and the verb keep their separate meanings, and this -- I feel -- is what results in the sense of completion that the addition of "back" contributes to those sentences.

David,

I liked your reply here.  Your example from the Beatles song "Get Back" was a nice touch.  For an example of a similar construction without "to", there's this excerpt from Fred Neil's "Everybody's Talkin'", famously sung by Harry Nilsson in the movie Midnight Cowboy (source):

I'm going where the sun keeps shining
Through the pouring rain
Going where the weather suits my clothes
 
I would like to add a few thoughts about "whither".
 
Ruth's speech is possibly the most beautiful passage in all of the King James translation of the Bible.  It is eloquent.  It is poetic.  You call it formal, and I certainly can't argue with that.  But in my mind, it sounds all the more formal to our modern ears because of the presence of certain archaic words like "whither", which were commonplace in 1611, when the King James translation was originally published.
 
I'm having trouble seeing that passage as an example of "the indefiniteness of the version without 'to'" (and pardon me if that's not what you were saying) because the sense of "to" is already inherent in the definition of "whither".  If we were to define "where" (oversimplistically) as "what, which, or whatever place", then we could say that "whither" means "to where".  One can't say "to whither" or "whither to".  It would be the equivalent of saying "to where to" in today's English.
 
As I said, though, that definition of "where" is overly simplistic.  Then as now, it could also mean "in or at what/which/whatever place".  But today, unlike back then, it can also mean "to what/which/whatever place", so an alternative rendering of "whither" into today's English is simply "where", as in your example:
 
Whither thou goest, I will go.
= I will go whither thou goest.
= I will go where you go.
 
No one would ever use "where" in this way back in 1611, nor would they use "where to" or "to where".  They would use "whither".
 
And, of course, yet another present-day rendering is "wherever":
 
Wherever you go, I will go.
 
DocV

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