1. Relative Pronouns: the Basics
  2. Determining the Correct Relative Pronoun

Relative clauses give additional information about a noun from the main clause and describe it in more detail. They are introduced with a relative pronoun that stands for the noun of the main clause.

Let's learn more about German relative pronouns.

Relative Pronouns: the Basics

Rule 1: Relative pronouns are:

- der, die, das - used for everyday speech

- welcher, welche, welches - used to avoid repeating the same word, see example.

Rule 2: Relative pronouns must be declined (according to gender, number, and case). They are generally placed directly after the subject or object to which they refer, and always start the relative subordinate clause.



Das ist die Frau, die die Rechnung bringt.

This is the woman, who brings the bill.

Das ist die Frau, welche die Rechnung bringt.

This is the woman, who brings the bill.

Here is the full declination table:

Nom. der / welcher die / welche das / welche die / welche
Acc. den / welchen die / welche das / welches die / welche
Dat. dem / welchem der / welcher dem / welchem denen / welchen
Gen. dessen deren dessen deren

Determining the Correct Relative Pronoun

Rule 3: If you want to find out which relative pronoun to use, follow the next steps:

  1. To which noun does the relative pronoun refer/replace?
  2. Which gender and which number (singular or plural) does this noun have?
  3. Which case does the relative pronoun in the subordinate clause have?

Let's look at an example:



Der Kaffee, den ich bestellt habe, ist kalt.

The coffee, that I ordered, is cold.

And follow the steps:

  1. The pronoun replaces the noun "coffee."
  2. "Der Kaffee" is masculine singular.
  3. Coffee is the direct object of the verb "to order" in the subordinate clause ➝ accusative case.

Determining the Correct Case

Rule 4: We often have to use a different case in the relative clause than in the main clause. To determine the case in a sentence, we can separate the relative pronoun into another sentence.

For example, we want to say: This is the man who own the hat. We'll take the following sentence and divide it into two:

Das ist der Mann, (?) der Hut gehört.

  • This is the man. - Das ist der Mann.
  • Man owns the hat. - Dem Mann gehört der Hut.

As we can see, the hat is the indirect object in the sentence. This means it needs to stand in the dative case and, therefore, the relative pronouns should also be declined in the dative case: dem.



Das ist der Mann, dem die Mütze gehört.

This is the man who owns the hat.