German Relative Pronouns

Relativpronomen im Deutschen – Erklärungen und Beispiele

German Relative Pronouns – Summary


Relative pronouns are always used in relative clauses, which complement nouns or pronouns as attributes. And this type of subordinate clause, as already mentioned, is always introduced by a relative pronoun. The relative pronoun refers to a previous mentioned noun or pronoun, which can the subject or the object of the main clause. The pronouns are adapted due to number, gender or case of the noun they refer to.

  • Nominative:der, die, das, die”
  • Genitive:dessen, deren, dessen, deren”
  • Dative:dem, der, dem, denen”
  • Accusative:den, die, das, die”

Example: “Der Mann, dessen Tasche gefunden wurde, hat dem ehrlichen Finder, welcher in sehr armen Verhältnissen lebt, einen Finderlohn bezahlt.”

German Relative Pronouns

Well, sometimes you might think … “Learn German, they said. It’s easy, they said.”

Actually, it’s your own fault – you simply should have known that learning German never is easy! Especially when you try to enter this fabulous world of German relative pronouns.

So, at some point of your glorious German career, you reach the forming of sentences. Unfortunately, you will notice quite fast that sentences are not formed by only one clause. Sometimes, there’s a bunch of them! Luckily, there are German relative pronouns, which will safe the beauty of sentences.

Well, these German relative pronouns, the links between the clauses, will help you to rise your German skills in spoken and written language to a whole new level. So, you even might say that these pronouns are that one little piece on the balance that decide whether people consider you as a native or a non-native speaker.

So, just try to see the importance of German relative pronouns as a positive aspect! Of course, it’s worth putting some effort in this topic and much more mastering it at last. Well, in the following, I think we should clear up what German relative pronouns actually are and then go into some details.

Are you ready? Great, then let’s start right ahead!

What is a German Relative Pronoun?

Was ist ein Relativpronomen im Deutschen?

First of all, let us talk about what a German relative pronoun actually is. Actually, it’s quite simple. Just have a look on this short description of these pronouns in the German language:

German relative pronouns are the words which join two clauses together. In case you want to add on an extra clause to a sentence, you will be joining it up with a German relative pronoun.

By the way, the clause which is added to the sentence by a German relative pronoun is called relative. Finally, something easy in German grammar!

So, in most cases, the German relative pronoun is represented by one of the German articles “der, die, das”. First, this might seem rather confusing because one doesn’t know which article to choose. Actually, it’s not that difficult though. Just have a look on the gender of the noun used in the previous sentence and adapt the gender of your German relative pronoun to it. And you are done! In the following, I’d like to gibe you some examples to illustrate what I was actually talking about.

  • Das Auto, das pink ist.” – The car which is pink.

Well, it is quite obvious: As I have used “das Auto”, a neutral noun, in the first sentence, I also used “der” as a relative pronoun for my relative clause. Unfortunately, we are learning German – that means that things never stay as easy as they seem to be in the first moment.

Anyways, let’s have a look how to use German relative pronouns in different contexts and talk about some irregular cases.

Regular and Irregular Cases of German Relative Pronouns

Regelmäßige und unregelmäßige Fälle von Relativpronomen im Deutschen

Well, in this chapter of this article, we will have a look a little bit more detailed on the different kinds of German relative pronouns and give some examples for contexts you can use them in. So, let’s just start right ahead with the first example.

German Relative Pronouns in Indicative Form

  • Die Frau, die rannte, ist meine Schwiegermutter. – The woman who ran is my mum in law.

So, here is a rather simple case we will start with, just in case you have to wake up first. So, it is quite similar to the example we have used above, where the German relative pronouns orientates completely to gender of the noun used in the first sentence. Of course, in this case, “Die Frau” is feminine, so the feminine German relative pronoun “die” is used.

By the way, you should note in this sentence is the positioning of the verbs. In German if you ever follow a verb with a comma, you must follow the comma with another verb. This is the “verb comma verb” rule.

Well, just keep that in mind. Now, we will come to the next example.

  • Das ist die Frau, die Mäuse hat. – This is the woman who has mouses.

Of course, in this case you have to use the feminine German relative pronoun “die” as “die Frau” is feminine. Furthermore, you have to keep in mind that the verb in a relative clause always goes to the end of the sentence.

German Relative Pronouns in Dative Form

  • Mein Bruder ist ein Mensch, dem ich alles sagen kann. – My brother is a person I can say all.

Maybe you might say that there’s an error in this example phrase. “Bruder” is masculine and so there must be “der” instead of “dem”! But you are horribly wrong, young Padawan. Well, the verb “vertrauen” comes with the dative case. As a consequence, you have to use “dem” as the singular masculine direct article. By the way, in case you want to refresh your knowledge about German articles, you have a click on it and you will be redirected this the article about German articles.

German Relative Pronouns in Genitive Form

  • Der Mann, dessen Handy ich benutzt habe. – The man whose cellphone I used.

For sure, you have noticed it. Yep, we are talking about possession. Well, that means that we have to use the genitive form of the German relative pronoun. So, in this case we have the masculine singular form, as “Mann” implies that. Actually, it’s not too complicated – you simply have to know the different forms of articles.

Please, keep in mind that this possessive relative pronoun corresponds to the owner, in this case “der Mann” and not to “das Telephon” as this is the object of the sentence.

German Relative Pronouns in Accusative Form

  • Die Frau, die ich gehasst habe. – The woman I have hated.

So, this last example sentence illustrates the accusative forms of German relative pronouns. Well, I think that there is not too much explanation needed anymore.

Finally, we have come to the end of this article about German relative pronouns. Of course, it can be difficult sometimes to find the right form of German relative pronoun. But once you understand adapting the pronoun the gender and case, you will master this topic of German grammar.

All important German Relative Pronouns

Alle wichtigen Relativpronomen

German Relative Pronouns Tab 1



Finally, we have reached the last part of this article where you can prove the German skills you have just learned. In the following you will see some phrases that you should complete with the correct terms. Once you have filled all the gaps, just click on the “correct” button and  you can see your errors and the correct results. Good luck and… auf Wiedersehen!

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