Relative pronouns

Relative pronouns can be translated as ‘who’, 'whom', ‘which’, ‘that’ or 'whose'.

In German, you use the definite article, although the genitive singular and dative plural are different.

mfnpl
Nominativederdiedasdie
Accusativedendiedasdie
Genitivedessenderendessenderen
Dativedemderdemdenen
curriculum-key-fact
Remember that:
  • the masculine and neuter forms are the same in the genitive and dative cases
  • the feminine and plural forms are the same in the nominative, accusative and genitive cases – only their dative forms are different

How to use relative pronouns

You use relative pronouns to link two sentences together.

To use these pronouns correctly, you must know the right gender of the word.

  • Ich habe das Handy gekauft. Das Handy war teuer. - I bought the mobile phone. The mobile phone was expensive.

becomes

  • Das Handy, das ich gekauft habe, war teuer. - The mobile phone that I bought was expensive.

A good way of working out how to use relative pronouns correctly is to cut the sentence up like this:

The phone (I bought 'it' = accusative) was expensive.

The phrase 'I bought it' > 'that I bought' is in the accusative, so the accusative form of the relative pronoun is needed.

Question

What do these sentences mean?

  • Die Bäume, die im Garten sind, sind sehr hoch.
  • Der Mann, dessen Auto eine Panne hat, ist sehr irritiert.
  • Die Leute, mit denen wir gesprochen haben, waren sehr nett.
  • Das war die schwierigste Prüfung, die ich je geschrieben habe.
  • Die Bäume, die im Garten sind, sind sehr hoch. - The trees, which are in the garden, are very tall.
  • Der Mann, dessen Auto eine Panne hat, ist sehr irritiert. - The man, whose car has broken down, is very irritated.
  • Die Leute, mit denen wir gesprochen haben, waren sehr nett. - The people, with whom we talked, were very nice.
  • Das war die schwierigste Prüfung, die ich je geschrieben habe. - That was the hardest test that I have ever done.
Question

Now link these sentences with a suitable relative pronoun. What do they mean?

  • Ich werde das Spiel sehen. Das Spiel beginnt um 19 Uhr.
  • Die Schule hat einen guten Ruf. Die Schüler haben gute Noten.
  • Die Musik ist einfach zu speichern. Man ladet die Musik herunter.
  • Mein Freund heißt Thomas. Ich gehe mit Thomas wandern.
GermanEnglishForm used
Das Spiel, das ich sehen werde, beginnt um 19 Uhr.The match, which I will watch, starts at 19.00.Accusative: ‘which I will watch’ – I will watch ‘it’
Die Schule, deren Schüler gute Noten haben, hat einen guten Ruf.The school, whose pupils have good grades, has a good reputation.Genitive: ‘whose’ – the school’s pupils/the pupils of the school
Die Musik, die man herunterladet, ist einfach zu speichern.The music that you download is easy to save.Nominative: ‘that’ - ‘it (literally: she = Musik) is easy to save’.
Mein Freund, mit dem ich wandern gehe, heißt Thomas.My friend, with whom I am going hiking, is called Thomas.Dative: ‘with whom’ – I am going with him – mit is a dative preposition.