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Word Order
Main Clauses
Component Parts of
  Main Clauses:
    I. The Predicate
   II. The Subject
  III. Objects
  IV. The Mid-Field
   V. Negations
   VI. "Non-elements"

Compound Sentences
Dependent Clauses
Infinitive Clauses

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Dartmouth German
    Studies Department

  When those who want to get in [the subway car] don't let those out who want to get out, then those who want to get out can't let those who want to get in get in. (Long live Berlin) [A subway ad].

Relative Clauses in English:

Relative clauses contain at least a subject and a verb and are used to modify nouns, pronouns, or sometimes whole phrases. A relative pronoun establishes the link to what is being modified (which is called the "antecedent"). In English, "who," "that," and "which" are the most common relative pronouns:

In English - but not in German - the relative pronoun can often be omitted:

Note that the antecedent and the relative pronoun may be in different cases:

Sometimes the relative clause is set off by commas.

Relative Clauses in German:

German relative clauses perform the same function as in English, but there are differences in form:

The relative pronouns reflect gender, number, and case. The relative pronoun's antecedent determines gender and number, while the pronoun's function within the dependent clause determines the case (see the examples below).

In relative clauses, just as in dependent clauses, the finite verb goes to the end.

In German, as opposed to English, the relative pronoun cannot be omitted.

In contrast to English ("Is he the man that you talked with?"), a German relative pronoun that is part of a prepositional phrase must stay with the preposition: "Ist das der Mann, mit dem du gesprochen hast?" - see below.

Relative clauses are always set off by commas.

The Relative Pronouns

Masculine Feminine Neuter Plural
Nominative der die das die
Accusative den die das die
Dative dem der dem denen
Genitive dessen deren dessen deren

Except in the genitive case, "welch-" can sometimes also be employed as the relative pronoun: "welcher", "welchen", etc.

Examples of relative pronouns in various cases. Again: a German relative pronoun that is part of a prepositional phrase must stay with the preposition: "Ist das der Mann, mit dem du gesprochen hast?"

With the relative pronoun in the nominative case:
Ein Unterhosenbügler ist ein Mann, der seine Unterhosen bügelt.  An underpants-ironer is a man who irons his underpants.
Ist das die Ärztin, die dich operiert hat? Is that the (woman) doctor who operated on you?
Ich suche ein Buch, das die Berliner U-Bahn beschreibt. I'm looking for a book that describes the Berlin subway system.
Hunde, die bellen, beißen nicht. Dogs that bark don't bite.

  For all who need more room. The new VW Rabbit.

With the relative pronoun in the accusative case:
Ich brauche einen Wagen, den ich mir leisten kann. I need a car that I can afford.
Wo ist das Buch, das Sie mir geschenkt haben? Where is the book that you gave me as a present?
Ist das die Suppe, die du bestellt hast? Is that the soup [that] you ordered?
Das sind Gäste, die ich besonders gern sehe. Those are guests that I particularly like to see.
Die Frau, an die du denkst, war meine Lehrerin. The woman you're thinking of was my teacher.
Das Haus, in das Sie jetzt gehen, gehört meiner Mutter. The house you are now entering belongs to my mother.
Er ist ein Mensch, auf den man bauen kann. He's a person on whom you can rely.
Der Freund, auf den ich warte, ist neu in der Stadt. The friend I am waiting for is new to the city.

  Do you dream of a car into which you can fit your whole life?

With the relative pronoun in the dative case:
Er ist ein Mensch, dem man nicht helfen kann. He's someone you can't do anything for.
Es gibt keine Politiker, denen ich noch traue. There are no politicians that I still trust.
Weißt du, wie die Frau heißt, der ich das Geld geben soll? Do you know the name of the woman I'm supposed to give the money to?
Das Kind, dem ich danken wollte, ist schon weg. The child I wanted to thank is already gone.
Das ist ein Hund, vor dem man Angst haben soll. That's a dog you should be afraid of.
Die Maschine, von der Sie sprechen, gehört uns nicht mehr. The machine you're talking about doesn't belong to us any more.
Das Holz, aus dem der Tisch gemacht ist, ist wahrscheinleich Eiche. The wood that the desk is made of is probably oak.
Die Leute, bei denen ich wohne, sind wirklich nett. The people I live with are really nice.

  My garden. A place in which there's room for breakfast in bed.

With a relative possessive pronoun:
Ein Student, dessen Wecker nicht klingelt, soll einen neuen kaufen. A student whose alarm doesn't go off should buy a new one.
Das ist der Mann, mit dessen Wagen wir gefahren sind. That's the man whose car we drove.
Ich kenne keine einzige Frau, deren Mann bereit ist, die Hausarbeit mit ihr zu teilen. I don't know a single woman whose husband is willing to share the housework with her.
Das ist dieselbe Professorin, in deren Vorlesung du eingeschlafen bist. That's the same professor in whose lecture you fell asleep.
Die Fotografin, deren Kamera du benutzt hast, will sie jetzt zurück haben. The photographer whose camera you used wants it back now.
Alle Studenten, deren Hunde ihre Hausaufgabe gefressen haben, kriegen eine 6. All students whose dogs ate their homework will get an F.

Other forms of relative pronoun:

  Whoever wants to protect the aroma of the best coffee also knows how to release it.

"wer" can be used only in the sense of "he who" or "whoever" - this is not technically a relative pronoun, since it has no antecedent; rather the whole clause in which it occurs occupies the position of a subject or an object. Similarly, "was" can mean "that which" or "whatever":

Wer zuerst kommt, mahlt zuerst. He who comes first, grinds [his flour] first (i.e., First come, first served).
Wer eine Grube gräbt, fällt selbst hinein. Whoso diggeth a pit shall fall therein.
Wen der Herr liebt, den züchtigt er. Whom the Lord loveth, He correcteth.
Was mich ärgert, ist, dass sie sich nicht entschuldigt hat. What annoys me is that she didn't apologize.
Was er Ihnen gesagt hat, war eine Lüge. What he told you was a lie.

In colloquial speech, "wo" can sometimes be a substitute for a prepositional phrase that expresses time, space, or a process:

In der Zeit, wo ich studierte, hatte ich kein Geld.
[instead of:] In der Zeit, in der ich studierte, hatte ich kein Geld.
When I was a student I had no money.

Der Ort, wo er wohnt, ist ziemlich klein.
[instead of:] Der Ort, in dem er wohnt, ist ziemlich klein.
The town where he lives is pretty small.

Ich möchte in einer Stadt arbeiten, wo ich kein Auto brauche.
[instead of:] Ich möchte in einer Stadt arbeiten, in der ich kein Auto brauche.
I'd like to work in a city where I don't need a car.

In der Tradition, wo er aufgewachsen ist, spielen Geschenke eine wichtig Rolle.
[instead of:] In der Tradition, in der er aufgewachsen ist, spielen Geschenke eine wichtig Rolle.
In the tradition he grew up in, gifts play an important role.

    You don't have to build everything you use.

"was" is the relative pronoun after certain antecedents:

the neuter pronouns "das" or "dem": Leben ist das, was passiert, wenn du gerade andere Pläne schmiedest. Life is what happens while you are forging other plans.
Sofri hält die Balance zwischen dem, was man sieht, und dem, was man fühlt. Sofri [a form of yoga] keeps a balance between that which one sees and that which one feels.
etwas Ich habe etwas, was ich dir geben möchte. I have something that I'd like to give you.
alles Ist das alles, was du zu sagen hast? Is that all that you have to say?
nichts Es gibt nichts, was er jetzt sagen könnte. There's nothing that he could say now.
wenig Ich habe nur wenig, was ich Ihnen bieten könnte. I have only little that I could offer you.
viel Es gibt viel, was Sie für ihn tun könnten. There's a lot that you could do for him.
vieles Vieles, was er sagt, ist Quatsch. Much of what he says is nonsense.
a neuter noun formed from a superlative adjective Das Beste, was er zu bieten hat, ist seine Wohnung. The best thing he has to offer is his apartment.
Das ist das Klügste, was du in dieser Situation tun könntest. That's the smartest thing you could do in this situation.
a neuter noun formed from an ordinal number Das Erste, was ich sagen möchte, ist ganz einfach. The first thing I want to say is very simple.
das Letzte Das ist das Letzte, was ich für dich wollte. That's the last thing I wanted for you.
das Einzige Das Einzige, was ich zum Geburtstag bekommen möchte, ist Geld. The only thing I want for my birthday is money.
a whole phrase Er kann nicht mehr sprechen, was nicht so schlecht ist. He can't talk any more, which isn't such a bad thing.
Wir gehen zum Zoo, was immer Spaß macht. We're going to the zoo, which is always fun.

  Sofi keeps the balance between inner and external beauty - between that which one sees and that which one senses and feels.

When "was" is the relative pronoun, it becomes a "wo-" compound in prepositional phrases:

Das ist etwas, worum ich bitten möchte. That's something that I'd like to request.
Das Erste, wovon sie gesprochen hat, war die Situation in den Schulen. The first thing that she talked about was the situation in the schools.

When the relative pronoun is part of a prepositional phrase and refers to something not human, colloquial speech sometimes uses a "wo-" compound:

Das ist der Bus, worauf wir alle warten. That's the bus we're all waiting for.
Der Wagen womit wir gefahren sind, war ziemlich alt. The car that we drove was pretty old.

But normally the preposition should precede the relative pronoun:

Das ist eine Firma, für die ich gerne arbeiten würde. That is a firm I'd like to work for.
Ich brauche eine Lupe, mit der ich das lesen könnte. I need a magnifying glass with which I could read that.