ENGLISCH/947: Questions to Mrs Gobbledygook (211) - which preposition (SB)

Dear Mrs Gobbledygook,

Which preposition can I use with the word "which"? And how can I tell if I should say "in which", "at which", "of which", or "for which"?

Ani Ch. (Bangkok, Thailand)


Dear Ms Ch.,

Thank you very much for your question which actually gives us two problems in one. So let us look at the first one the prepositions that you have given us, "in which", "at which", "of which", "for which" and when we use them.

Basically, our choice of preposition is governed by the verb that relates to it. So for example, if we take the phrase "in which" we might say, "this is the film in which I am interested". Another way of saying this is "that's the film I'm interested in". It's the verb "interested" that tells us we need to use the preposition "in", because "interested in" is a collocation, two words that go together, and also it is a phrasal verb.

The same applies to "at which": "This is the university at which I studied". Another way to say that is: "This is the university which I studied at". The word "studies" tells us to use the preposition "at".

However in written English we try to avoid putting the preposition at the end of the sentence. We can say, "that's the film I'm interested in" or "that's the university I studied at", "that's the song I've heard of", "these are the goods I am looking for". But when we are writing formal English we try to take the preposition and put it in the middle of the sentence. And this is when we need to use the relative pronoun "which". "That's the university I studied at" then becomes "that's the university at which I studied". "That's the film I'm interested in" will be turned into "that's the film in which I am interested"."That's the song I've heard of" will be "that's the song of which I have heard" and "these are the goods I am looking for" will be "these are the goods for which I am looking" in formal written English.

The most important thing to remember is that this can only be found in very formal written English. And if we talk in a natural and relaxed way, we would normally put the preposition at the end of the sentence. However, if you want to make your writing very formal, then it is for you to consider placing the preposition in the middle of a sentence before the relative pronoun.

In the hope that this will provide the explanation "in which" you were interested...

Miranda Gobbledygook

28. November 2018

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