Relative pronouns

(Using German relative pronouns)

Table of contents – relative pronouns

On this page you will find the following:

  1. Use of relative pronouns
  2. Declension of relative pronouns
  3. Further explanations and exercises

What are relative pronouns? How are they used?

Relative pronouns (in German: Relativpronomen) are a subcategory of pronouns. They introduce relative clauses in which they replace a noun or pronoun mentioned somewhere in the complex sentence. German relative pronouns may be inflected (declined), so their grammatical gender and number must correspond to the word they substitute. The grammatical case, however, refers to the relative clause itself. Compare:

  • The sentences show examples of using relative pronouns in conversation. Note the questions for identifying the pronouns and determining the grammatical case of the clause. The replaced words are marked in orange:
    • A relative pronoun as the subject (nominative case):
      • „Unser neuer Chef, der heute zum ersten Mal kommt, soll ja ziemlich nett sein.“ (I hear our new boss, who’s coming for the first time today, is pretty nice.)
      • Question: „Wer oder was kommt heute zum ersten Mal?“ (Who or what is coming for the first time today?)
    • Use as a genitive object:
      • „Den Mann, dessen Geldbörse ich gefunden habe, habe ich heute Morgen getroffen.“ (I met the man whose wallet I found this morning.)
      • Question: „Wessen Geldbörse habe ich gefunden?“ (Whose wallet did I find?)
    • Use as a dative object:
      • „Dein Freund, dem du helfen wolltest, hat vorhin angerufen.“ (Your friend whom/who you were going to help called earlier.)
      • Question: „Wem wolltest du helfen?“ (Whom/who did you want to help?)
    • Use as an accusative object:
      • „Mein neues Fahrrad, das ich mir gestern gekauft habe, wurde heute geklaut.“ (The new bicycle that I bought yesterday has been stolen today.)
      • Question: „Wen oder was habe ich gestern gekauft?“ (Who or what did I buy yesterday?)
    • Use as a prepositional object:
      • „Die Feier, auf die du dich so gefreut hast, fällt leider aus.“ (The party you were so looking forward to has unfortunately been cancelled.)
      • Question: „Auf was hast du dich so gefreut?“ (What were you looking forward to?)

How are relative pronouns declined (inflected)?

The German relative pronouns are:

  • der, die, das
  • welcher, welche, welches

In English, both types correspond to:

  • who, whom, which, whose’ and sporadically ‘that

Information: Do not confuse relative pronouns with relative adverbs such as ‘wo, wie, wohin’, which are not inflected and are a separate part of speech.

The pronouns, however, follow this declension or inflection:

Singular pronouns

Grammatical case Masculine Feminine Neuter
Nominative der, welcher die, welche das, welches
Genitive dessen deren dessen
Dative dem, welchem der, welcher dem, welchem
Accusative den, welchen die, welche das, welches

Plural pronouns

Grammatical case The endings remain the same for masculine, feminine, and neuter forms:
Nominative die, welche
Genitive deren
Dative denen, welchen
Accusative die, welche

Further explanations referring to the ‘Relative pronouns’

The following explanations complete the topic ‘Use of relative pronouns in German grammar’ and could be interesting too: