German Relative Clauses

Overview

German Relative clauses allow us to provide additional information about a noun without starting a new sentence. Relative clauses are always introduced by relative pronouns, usually, der, die, das for people and things and not wer/wen (who/whom) as in English relative clauses. we can use relative pronouns to combine two main clauses. In German grammar, relative clauses are always set off by commas.

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Relative clauses in English use the relative pronouns that, which, who, whom, and whose. In German, the relative pronouns are nearly identical to the definite articles, with the exception of denen in the dative plural (instead of den) and dessen and deren in the genitive (instead of des and der).

Relative clauses are used extensively in German, and they use dependent word order (i.e. the conjugated verb moves to the end of the clause). In addition, the grammar of the relative clause remains independent of the grammar of the main clause. For example:

Das ist das Haus, das ich gekauft habe.
That is the house, which I bought.

In the above example, “das Haus” is a predicate noun (it is a renaming of the subject, “that”; “that” = “the house”), so it is in the nominative case. In the relative clause, the house (represented by “which”) is the direct object: “I” is the subject performing the action (“bought”), and the house is the thing being bought (i.e. recipient of the action, or direct object). This example shows how the function of the noun or “antecedent” in the main clause does not necessarily stay the same in the relative clause.

relative pronouns jpg

Relative clauses can follow other relative and subordinate clauses, thereby creating lengthy or nested sentences (Schachtelsätze; literally: “box” sentences, which are not unlike the concept of nesting dolls). Consider the following example:

Ich habe einen Mann gesehen, der sich verhalten hat, als ob er Superman wäre, der dafür bekannt ist, dass er fliegen kann.
I have seen a man, who behaved as if he was Superman, who is known for the fact that he can fly. 

The boldface words are relative pronouns (der) and subordinating conjunctions (als ob, dass), which allow for the construction of more complex sentences (Schachtelsätze). These sentences are more frequently seen in print and less often heard in conversation, due to their length and difficulty in following. Although these are present in written German, particularly in technical, academic, and literary texts, they are not prevalent in the vernacular or everyday speech (Alltagssprache).

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Common European Framework of Reference for Languages

The CEFR is an international standard used to describe language ability. Here are specific details of the CEFR for this topic.

General Explanation:

Can understand the main points of clear standard input on familiar matters regularly encountered in work, school, leisure, etc. Can deal with most situations likely to arise whilst travelling in an area where the language is spoken. Can produce simple connected text on topics which are familiar or of personal interest. Can describe experiences and events, dreams, hopes & ambitions and briefly give reasons and explanations for opinions and plans.

Specific Capabilities at this Level

Writing:
I can write simple connected text on topics which are familiar or of personal interest. I can write personal letters describing experiences and impressions.
Spoken Production:
I can connect phrases in a simple way in order to describe experiences and events, my dreams, hopes and ambitions. I can briefly give reasons and explanations for opinions and plans. I can narrate a story or relate the plot of a book or film and describe my reactions.
Spoken Interaction:
I can deal with most situations likely to arise whilst travelling in an area where the language is spoken. I can enter unprepared into conversation on topics that are familiar, of personal interest or pertinent to everyday life (e.g. family, hobbies, work, travel and current events).
Reading:
I can understand texts that consist mainly of high frequency everyday or job-related language. I can understand the description of events, feelings and wishes in personal letters.
Listening:
I can understand the main points of clear standard speech on familiar matters regularly encountered in work, school, leisure, etc. I can understand the main point of many radio or TV programs on current affairs or topics of personal or professional interest when the delivery is relatively slow and clear.