As an advanced beginner student, building basic short sentences in German is a simple task. But, at some point of time, you’ll have to take the next step and lengthen your sentences.
Forming long complex sentences requires different dependent clauses. This is where the German relative clauses and relative pronouns come into play. Before you start combining two sentences using relative clause, you need to master the relative pronouns. So, let’s begin this lesson with pronouns!
What are Relative Pronouns?
Relative pronouns are the words which are used to combine two sentences together. They are usually definite articles der, die and das. Just like articles, even the relative pronouns change depending on the case, gender and number of the noun.
You must be wondering how to decide which one to use. Well, it depends on the noun which was used in the first sentence. If the noun is feminine, then the relative pronoun must also be feminine.
German relative pronouns are equivalent to English “which”, “that”, “who”, “whose” etc. For example – My friend, who owns the cafe, is back in town.
Declension of Relative pronouns
You must have noticed that this table is very similar to the one with declension of definite articles. The only difference is in the dative plural and in the genitive case.
Now, let’s study how and when to use these pronouns in different sentences.
What are German Relative Clauses?
A relative clause is a type of dependent clause, which is used to join two main clauses (sentences). This clause helps you to provide additional information about the noun without a new sentence.
German relative clauses are always introduced by relative pronouns. Also, they always begin with a comma.
First clause + , (comma) + Relative pronoun + Second clause
Such complex sentences are known as relative sentences. They are called Relativsätze in German.
Construction of German Relative Clauses
While forming long sentences using relative clauses, the most important thing to remember is that the conjugated verb is always placed at the end of the relative clause.
Relative pronouns are usually placed immediately after the noun to which they refer. They can be in the middle of the sentence or at the end of the main clause. Whenever necessary, a preposition can be placed before the relative pronoun.
You all must have read earlier in this lesson, that the gender and number of the relative pronoun is the same as the gender and number of the noun to which it refers. Well, now the tricky part is- deciding the case!
The case of the relative pronoun depends on the case of the noun within the relative clause, and NOT on the case of the noun in the main clause.
This means, if the relative pronoun is replacing the subject in the relative clause, then it will be nominative. However, if it is replacing the object in the relative clause, then it will be accusative.
Let’s consider 2 sentences – Lisa sucht einen Partner. Er hilft ihr bei der Hausarbeit. (Lisa is looking for a partner. He helps her with the housework.)
While joining the above 2 sentences to form one relative sentence, we will be replacing the noun with a relative pronoun. The noun is accusative in the main clause – einen Partner. But, it is nominative in the second clause – er. So, the relative pronoun in the relative clause will also be nominative.
Lisa sucht einen Partner, der ihr bei der Hausarbeit hilft. (Lisa is looking for a partner who will help her with the housework.)
Types of Relative Clauses in German
German relative clauses can be in the nominative, accusative, dative or genitive case. It is the case of the relative pronoun that decides the type of the relative clause.
- Nominative – When the relative pronoun acts as a subject, then the relative clause is in the nominative case. For example:-
- Das Mädchen, das auf der Bühne singt, ist meine Tochter. (The girl who is singing on the stage is my daughter.)
- Accusative – When the relative pronoun acts as a direct object or is accompanied by an accusative preposition, then the relative clause is in the accusative case. For example:-
- Der Taschenrechner, den du mir gegeben hast, ist verloren. (The pocket calculator that you had given me is lost.)
- Dative – When the relative pronoun acts as an indirect object or is accompanied by a dative preposition, then the relative clause is in the dative case. For example:-
- Mein Bruder, mit dem ich ins Kino gehe, ist immer pünktlich. (My brother with whom I am going to the movies, is always punctual.)
- Genitive – When the relative pronoun is genitive i.e expresses belonging, then the relative clause is in the genitive case. For example:-
- Der Nachbar, dessen Auto eine Panne hat, geht zu Fuß in die Kirche. (The neighbor whose car has broken down is walking to the church.)
Take this quiz on German relative clauses to practice what you learned in this tutorial.
If you enjoyed learning this lesson, also check out the topic Subordinate Clauses in German on your favorite blog “All About Deutsch”.
You can also go through this article on DW, if you wish to learn more about German Relative Clauses.
PS – On this blog, you will find grammar lessons just like this one, vocabulary lists divided subject-wise as well as articles related to countries like Germany, Austria and Switzerland and a lot more. Keep scrolling, keep learning!