How to learn Relative Clauses in German Grammar

Introduction

We can use relative clauses to give some additional detail about a noun without starting a new sentence. We also use them to link two main clauses. Relative clauses are always started with relative pronouns; usually, der, die, and das for persons and things and not wer/wen (who/whom) as in English relative clauses. In German grammar, relative clauses are always divided by commas.

Learn the structure and word order of German relative clauses with the GermanMind method. Use our easy and straightforward declension table to learn relative pronouns, and put your skills to the test in the exercises.

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Usage

Relative clauses give additional information about a subject or object or make one sentence out of two main sentences. The relative clause can be nominative, accusative, dative, or genitive case.

Nominative Case: 

Anna, die eine Brille trägt, ist in meinem Deutschkurs. Anna, who wears glasses, is in my German class.

Wer trägt eine Brille? Anna/sie trägt eine Brille.

Accusative Case: 

Otto, den ich schon jahrelang kenne, ist sehr witzig. Otto, whom I've known for years, is very funny.

Wen kenne ich schon jahrelang? ich kenne Otto/ihn schon lange.

Dative Case: 

Das sind meine besten Freunde, mit denen ich mich oft treffe. These are my best friends, with whom I often meet.
Mit wem treffe ich mich oft? Mit meinen besten Freunden/ihnen.

Genitive Case:

Lilli, deren Kochkünste fantastisch sind, ist meine längste Freundin. Lilli, whose cooking skills are fantastic, is my longest friend.

Wessen Kochkünste sind fantastisch? Lillis/ihre Kochkünste sind fantastisch.

 

Construction and word order of relative clauses

We use relative pronouns or adverbs to create relative clauses in German grammar. They usually are placed directly after the subject/object to which they refer - this can be at the end or in the middle of the sentence. Relative clauses are dependent clauses, so we need to be careful about word order and the placement of the verb. The verb is always at the end of the relative clause.

Declension Table: Relative Pronouns

Relative pronouns change their form according to the noun's gender and the referred to number. This table shows the declension of relative pronouns in the nominative, accusative, dative, and genitive case.

Important:

The case we use depends on whether the relative pronoun replaces a subject or an object in the relative clause. Remember that we often need to use a different case in the relative clause than in the main clause.

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Use of relative pronouns
In general, the relative pronouns der/die/das are preferred in everyday language. In contrast, welche/welche/welches are usually used to avoid the repetition of the same word.

Example:

Das ist das Kind, das das rote Fahrrad fährt. This is the child riding the red bike.

better but the same meaning:

Das ist das Kind, welches das rote Fahrrad fährt. This is the child riding the red bike.

A preposition can be placed in front of the relative pronoun.

Example:

Das sind die Studenten, mit denen ich Deutsch lerne. These are the students with whom I learn German.

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