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German relative pronouns

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What is a relative pronoun in German?

A German relative pronoun introduces a relative clause. This clause describes a nouns, pronoun or even a whole sentence more precisely. Therefore the relative pronouns replaces the related element in the relative clause. Gender and number of the pronoun are dependent to the element it is replacing.

The most common relative pronouns are 'der/die/das' and 'welcher/welche/welches'.

In English the mentioned pronouns can be translated with 'who', 'that' or 'which'. 

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  • Maria ist ein Mädchen, das Fußball mag. - Maria is a girl who likes football. 
  • Borussia Dortmund ist ein Verein, welcher ihr gefällt. - Borussia Dortmund is a club that she likes.
  • Marco Reus ist der Spieler, den sie am liebsten hat. - Marco Reus is the player which she likes most

Function of relative pronouns in German

Relative pronouns are used to form relative clauses which consists of a main and a subordinate clause. The relative pronoun initiates the subordinate clause. 

The subordinate clause gives a closer description of the a noun standing in the main sentence.

enlightenedIn German the subordinate clause has a different structure than the main sentence: the verb stands in the end of the subordinate clause, the pronoun instead occupies the first place and a position very close to the related element.

The subordinate clause can also stand in a middle position:

  • Die Katze, die sie schon ewig hatte, ist gestorben. - The cat, which she had since a long time, died.
  • Zähne, welche kariös sind, müssen behandelt werden. - Teeth, that are carious, have to be treated.

Declension of relative pronouns in German

The following tables show the declension of the most common relative pronouns in German. Most forms equal the forms of definite articles.

'Der', 'die', 'das' 

'der/die/das' are not only used as definite articles. They are also the most common relative pronouns.




  • Hier ist der Patient, der gestern kam. - Here is the patient who came yesterday.
  • Magst du den Wagen, den ich fahre? - Do you like the car that I drive?
  • Das ist der Straßenhund, dem ich Futter gebe. - That is the street dog to which I give food.
  • Robin ist der Junge, dessen Kaninchen gestorben ist. - Robin is the boy, whose bunny died.


'Welcher', 'welche', 'welches' 

Instead of 'der/die/das' we can use 'welcher/welche/welches'.




  • Ich habe dir von dem Mann erzählt, welcher nebenan lebte- I told you about the men who lives next door.
  • Er mag den Tisch, welchen sie gekauft hast- He like the table (that) she bought.
  • Du hast einen Sohn, welchem du oft Geschenke machst. - You have a son to whom you often give presents.


The case of relative pronouns in German

Unlike number and gender, the case of the pronoun and the related element can be different: 

The case of the relative pronoun depends on the verb (or the preposition) given in the relative clause.

(Check out German cases to get more information!)

Same caseDifferent case
  • Den Stift, den du mir geschenkt hast, benutze ich oft. - i use often the pen you gave me.

(both accusative)

  • Die Katze, die  sie schon ewig hatte, ist gestorben. The cat, which she had since a long time, died.

(related noun in nominative and pronoun in accusative)

  • Der Hund, der im Park spielte, hatte spaß. - The tog, that was playing in the parc, had fun.

(both nominative)

  • Der Hund, den ich gesehen habe, hatte Spaß - The dog, that I saw, had fun.

(related noun in nominative and pronoun in accusative)


Relative pronouns with prepositions

Relative pronouns in German can be accompanied by prepositions.

enlightenedThe pronouns case depends on the preposition now!

The preposition stands before the relative pronoun in the relative clause.

  • Johannes ist der Freund, mit dem ich in den Urlaub fahre. - Johannes is the friend (that) I am going to travel with.
  • Das ist das Haus, in dem ich wohne. - That is the House (that) I live in.
  • Felix fährt das gleiche Auto, für das ich spare. - Felix drives the same car (that) I am saving money for.
  • Bus Nummer 23 ist der Bus, auf den ich warte. - Bus number 23 is the bus (that) I'm waiting for.

'Was' and 'wo' as relative pronouns

For some expressions in German we use 'was' and 'wo' as relative pronouns. These pronouns are not declined.

Function of 'was'

The relative pronoun 'was' can be used instead of 'das' to replace a noun. It can also replace another pronoun or even the whole main sentence.

Replacing a nounJenes ist das Haus, was abgerissen wird. - That is the house that is being demolished.
Replacing a pronounVieles, was du sagst ist falsch. - A lot of what you are saying is wrong. 
Replacing a sentence

Maria schreibt gute Noten, was ihrer Mutter sehr gefällt. - Maria gets good grades. Her Mother likes that.

Function of 'wo'

The relative pronoun 'wo' refers to a spacial or temporal element mentioned in the main sentence.

Instead of 'wo' we can use the forms of 'der/die/das' or 'welcher/welche/welches' + preposition

Replacing a spatial elementDas ist der Ort, wo wir uns das erste mal getroffen haben. - That's the place, where we met for the first time.Das ist der Ort, an welchem wir uns das erste mal getroffen haben. - That's the place, where we met for the first time.
Replacing a temporal elementSie kommen nächste Woche, wo ich wenig Zeit habe. -They're coming next week, when I don'thave much time.Sie kommen nächste Woche, in der ich wenig Zeit habe. -They're coming next week, when I don'thave much time.


'Wohin, woher"

If a replaced spatial element indicates some kind of direction we use 'wohin' or 'woher'.

Relative PronounTranslationExample
wohinwhere(to)Carlos lebt in Kolumbien, wohin ich unbedingt mal Reisen möchte. - Carlos lives in Colombia, where I really want to travel someday.
woherfrom whereDas ist die Seite, woher ich die Informationen habe. - That's the page, (where) I have the information from.

'Wo-' + preposition

The word 'wo' can also be united with some prepositions.

Relative PronounTranslationExample
womit by/with which Ich habe ein Radio, womit ich Musik höre. - I have a radio with which I listen to the music.
wofürfor whichEr hat mir sehr geholfen, wofür ich mich bedanken möchten. - He helped me a lot, for which I am thankful. 
worüberabout (what / which)Das ist das Unglück, worüber die Nachrichten berichten. - Thats the tragedy the newas reports about.
wovonabout (what) /from (which)Das ist das, wovon ich dir erzählt habe. - That's what I told you about.



  1. Exercise of German relative pronouns
  2. Exercise: Find the fitting relative pronoun!

Exercise of German relative pronouns

Exercise: Find the fitting relative pronoun!

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