Relative Pronouns

Adjectives are useful for describing things in German. Adjectives fit inside clauses, as we’ve seen:

Der Hund ist gelb.
The dog is yellow.

We can join this clause to a second clause by using a relative pronoun. When we do this, we put the verb at the end of the relative clause.

Ein Hund, der gelb ist.
A dog that’s yellow.

But note that this isn’t quite a sentence, technically all we’ve done is join the relative clause to a noun phrase.

Ein Hund, der gelb ist, wohnt auf einer Insel.
A dog that’s yellow lives on an island.

That’s better. As you can see, the relative clause is surrounded by commas.

The relative pronoun changes according to case:

Er ist der Mann, den ich gesehen hatte.
He is the man that I had seen.

And there are three unique relative pronouns. Two show possession: deren is used for feminine and plural nouns, and dessen is used for masculine and neuter nouns. The noun governing this is always the one outside the relative clause:

Die Frau, deren Fenster ich gebrochen habe…
The woman whose window I broke…

Der Doktor, dessen Rat ich brauche…
The doctor whose advice I need…

The other unique relative pronoun is used for dative plural nouns.

Das sind die Leute, denen ich folgen will.
Those are the people that I want to follow.

What if, instead of a specific noun, you’re referring to “something” or “somewhere”? Simply use a question word like wo or was.

Es gibt hier fast gar nichts, was ich essen kann.
There’s almost nothing here that I can eat.

Wo wir gehen, brauchen wir keine Waffen.
We won’t need weapons where we’re going.