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Relative pronouns

Relative pronouns are words which link up a sentence with an extra snippet of information.

Relative pronouns

When you include an extra phrase with a relative pronoun in it, it’s called a relative clause.

Examples of relative pronoun use

  • I went into the new shopping centre which is amazing -> Ich bin zum neuen Einkaufszentrum gegangen das unglaublich ist.
  • My little brother, who is cheeky, stole my chocolate -> Mein kleiner Bruder, der frech ist, hat meine Schokolade gestohlen.
  • I like coffee that is really strong -> Ich mag Kaffee, der sehr stark ist.
  • I went to a castle where you could climb up the towers -> Ich bin zu einem Schloss gegangen, wo man die Türme hochklettern konnte.

‘Which’, ‘that’ and ‘who’ are translated as ‘den‘, ‘der‘, ‘die‘ and ‘das‘. ‘Where’ is ‘wo

Selecting the correct relative pronoun

In order to choose the correct relative pronoun you need to:

  • Know what gender your relative pronoun needs to be:

    Look back at the thing it refers to (eg I have a cat that is really cute -> that = the cat). What gender is that noun? Your relative pronoun will be the same.

  • Know what word to pick for your relative pronoun (der/den/die/das?).

    You know the gender. Now choose the correct pronoun:

    Der‘ for masculine if it’s the subject or you’re using the verb sein (this will mean it’s in the nominative case).

    Den‘ for masculine if it’s the direct object (this will mean it’s in the accusative case) (less common).

    Die‘ for feminine, das for neuter and die for plural.

    Wo‘ means ‘where’.

  • Know what to do with the word order:

    The verb in the relative clause always goes at the end.

How to select the correct relative pronoun

You want to say ‘I love concerts which are very loud.’

  1. Original sentence – Ich liebe Konzerte (I love concerts)
  2. Extra bit – (sie) sind sehr laut ((they) are very loud)
  3. Thought process – ‘which’ refers back to Konzerte. Konzerte is plural. The relative pronoun for plurals is die. The verb in the relative clause is sind which has to go to the end.

Sentence in German

Ich liebe Konzerte, die sehr laut sind.

 

You want to say ‘My sister has a boyfriend who has long hair.’

  1. Original sentence – Meine Schwester hat einen Freund (My sister has a boyfriend)
  2. Extra bit – (er) hat lange Haare ((he) has long hair)
  3. Thought process – ‘who’ refers back to Freund. Freund is masculine & the subject so in the nominative. The masculine nominative relative pronoun is der. The verb in the relative clause is hat which has to go to the end.

Sentence in German

Meine Schwester hat einen Freund, der lange Haare hat.

 

You want to say ‘I go to a youth club where you can chill out with friends.’

  1. Original sentence – Ich gehe zu einem Jugendklub (I go to a youth club)
  2. Extra bit – man kann mit Freunden relaxen (you can relax with friends)
  3. Thought process – ‘where’ is always translated as wo. The verb in the relative clause is kann which has to go to the end.

Sentence in German

Ich gehe zu einem Jugendklub, wo man mit Freunden relaxen kann.

 

You want to say ‘My friend, who is 15, has a job.’

  1. Original sentence – Meine Freundin hat einen Job (My friend has a job)
  2. Extra bit – (er) ist 15 Jahre alt ((she) is 15)
  3. Thought process – ‘who’ refers back to Freundin. Freundin is feminine. The feminine relative pronoun is die. The verb in the relative clause is ist which has to go to the end. Although the relative clause is going in the middle of it, the original sentence keeps its order.

Sentence in German

Meine Freundin, die 15 Jahre alt ist, hat einen Job.

 

Common mistakes made by English speakers

  • Not sending the verb to the end.
  • Using ‘wer’ or ‘welch’ as a relative pronoun (they mean ‘who’ & ‘which’ but only in questions as in ‘who is that?’ ‘which shall I choose?’).

 

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