Referring to something non-specific

When you are referring to something general that cannot be specified, you have to use was (literally: 'what'), eg:

  • alles was ich habe - everything (that) I have
  • nichts was ich will - nothing (that) I want
  • etwas was ich machen kann, ist ... - something (that) I can do is ...
  • was ich nicht weiß, kann ich nicht sagen - I can’t say what I don’t know
Es ist nicht alles Gold, was glänzt – All that glitters is not golddeutsches Sprichwort - German proverb

You also use was when you refer back to a whole clause.

Viele Leute finden Eislaufen einfach, was ich nicht verstehen kann. - Many people find ice-skating easy, which I can’t understand.


What do these phrases mean?

  • Hast du alles, was du brauchst?
  • Ich suche etwas, was nicht zu teuer ist.
  • Alles was ich will, kann man im Supermarkt kaufen.
  • Hast du alles, was du brauchst? - Do you have everything (that) you need?
  • Ich suche etwas, was nicht zu teuer ist. - I’m looking for something that is not too expensive.
  • Alles was ich will, kann man im Supermarkt kaufen. - Everything (that) I want, you can buy in the supermarket.
Nicht alles was zählt, kann gezählt werden – Not everything that counts, can be countedAlbert Einstein, German scientist and philosopher

Now make two sentences into one using was, eg:

Mein Bruder bekommt alles. Ich will das. > Mein Bruder bekommt alles, was ich will. - My brother gets everything that I want.

  • Sie hat nichts. Sie will etwas tragen.
  • Wir brauchen das. Es ist die Feuerwehr.
  • Ich sage immer das. Ich meine das.
  • Sie hat nichts, was sie tragen will. - She has nothing (that) she wants to wear.
  • Was wir brauchen, ist die Feuerwehr. - What we need is the fire brigade.
  • Ich sage immer, was ich meine. - I always say what I mean.

Did you know?

Alles was zählt (Everything that matters/counts) is a popular German soap opera - Seifenoper. The story is set in Essen, northern Germany, and the plot revolves around the unscrupulous Steinkamp family and their company 'Steinkamp Sport, Tanz und Wellness'.

Other famous German soap operas are Gute Zeiten, Schlechte Zeiten (Good times, bad times) and Unter Uns (Amongst ourselves).

In 2007, actors from Alles was zählt appeared in character on Unter Uns, which was the first-ever crossover of two soap operas in Germany.

RTL Introduces The Cast of New Prime Time Soap 'Alles was Zählt' - August 18, 2006
The original cast of 'Alles was zählt'
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