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Relative Clauses--Supplementary Information 

Introduction--More examples

Relative clauses supply additional information about the nouns in a sentence.

Here are some more examples of simple sentences without any relative clauses; in this case, a relatively dull description of my room:

Ein Holzschnitt von Adam und Eva hängt an der Wand. A woodcut of Adam and Eve is hanging on the wall.
99 Luftballons liegen auf dem Boden. 99 [red] balloons are lying on the floor.
Ich schlafe in einem kleinen Bett. I sleep in a small bed.
Am Fenster steht der Tisch. By the window stands the table.

Here are the same sentences with relative clauses added to provide more information about some of the nouns, which in this case shows you the tremendous historical significance of the objects in my room:

Ein Holzschnitt von Adam und Eva, den Albrecht Dürer im Jahr 1515 gemacht hat, hängt an der Wand. A woodcut of Adam and Eve, which Albrecht Dürer made in the year 1515, is hanging on the wall.
99 Luftballons, die Nena 1983 verloren hat, liegen auf dem Boden. 99 [red] balloons, which Nena lost in 1983, are lying on the floor.
Ich schlafe in einem kleinen Bett, das früher Beethoven gehört hat. I sleep in a small bed, which used to belong to Beethoven
Am Fenster steht der Tisch, auf dem Johanna Spyri Heidi geschrieben hat. By the window stands the table, on which Johanna Spyri wrote Heidi.

Return to the main Relative clauses page.
 

Where to position the relative clauses in the sentence--More examples

The relative clause always comes right after the noun it is describing.  Here are some more examples.  In each case, the relative clause is in bold print, and the noun or noun phrase it is describing is in italics.  Note also that the relative clause is set off from the main clause by commas:
 
Vier Studenten, die unglaublich gesund sind, sitzen in der Mensa und essen. Four students who are unbelievably healthy are sitting in the cafeteria and eating.
Ludwig trinkt ein Glas Möhrensaft, der gut für seine Augen ist. Stefan is drinking a glass of carrot juice, which is good for his eyes.
Das Olivenöl in dem vegetarischen Nudelgericht, das Johanna isst, wird aus ihrem schlechten Cholesterin gutes Cholesterin machen. The olive oil in the vegetarian pasta which Johanna is eating will make good cholesterol out of her bad cholesterol.
Das passiert während der zwanzig Kilometer, die sie jeden Tag mit dem Rad von und zur Uni fährt. That happens during the 20 kilometers which she rides on her bike every day to the university and back.
Der Jogurt, den Hans jeden Tag genießt, hilft Krebs verhindern. The yogurt which Hans savors every day helps prevent cancer.
Hans trinkt auch ein Glas Orangensaft, in dem er eine Vitamintablette aufgelöst hat. Hans is also drinking a glass of orange juice, in which he has dissolved a vitamin pill.
Karin isst eine Portion Müsli, die mit Vitaminen vollgepumpt ist. Karin is eating a serving of Müsli, which is pumped full of vitamins.

In the last example, note that the relative pronoun refers grammatically to the first noun ("Portion") in the noun phrase ("eine Portion Müsli") - this is why the relative pronoun is die (as in "die Portion") and not das (as in "das Müsli"). This will happen when the relative clause refers to a noun phrase containing more than one noun. You will most likely get such sentences right by instinct ==> please don't let this detail worry you too much!

Return to the main Relative clauses page.

A minor exception: "dangling verbs"

There is one exception to the above rule: if placing the relative clause right after "its" noun in this way would leave the verb in the main clause dangling at the end of the sentence by itself, the resulting sentence would be awkward to comprehend. In such cases, the verb is usually moved in front of the relative clause.

Here are some more examples of sentences that would leave the verb dangling by itself in this awkward way if the relative clause were placed right after its antecedent:
 

Letztes Jahr haben Ludwig, Johanna, Hans und Karin den Berliner Marathon, den sie jedes Jahr zusammen rennen, gewonnen. Last year, Ludwig, Johanna, Hans and Karin won the Berlin marathon, which they run together every year.
Sie werden nie die Kiste Champagner, die sie dafür gewonnen haben, trinken. They will never drink the case of champagne [which] they won for that.

The verb is thus moved in front of the relative clause as follows:
 

Letztes Jahr haben Ludwig, Johanna, Hans und Karin den Berliner Marathon gewonnen, den sie jedes Jahr zusammen rennen. Last year, Ludwig, Johanna, Hans and Karin won the Berlin marathon, which they run together every year.
Sie werden nie die Kiste Champagner trinken, die sie dafür gewonnen haben. They will never drink the case of champagne [which] they won for that.

Return to the main Relative clauses page.

Where to position the verb in the relative clause--More examples

As mentioned on the main page, this is easy also: relative clauses are subordinate clauses, and so the conjugated verb comes at the end of the relative clause.
A note on this: It is sometimes difficult to give a clear explanation for why certain conjunctions subordinate the clauses they introduce to the main clause (e.g. it would be impossible for most German teachers to explain why  "weil" is a subordinating conjunction, while "denn," which means essentially the same thing, is a coordinating conjunction). In the case of relative clauses, however, it makes good intuitive sense that the relative clause, which just provides additional information about one of the nouns in a sentence, is providing "subordinate" information. A criterion sometimes given for distinguishing main clauses from subordinate clauses is that the main clause can form a complete sentence by itself, while the subordinate clause cannot.  It is sometimes a bit confusing to try to apply this criterion, but in the case of relative clauses, things are very clear-cut: If a relative clause is removed from a sentence, that sentence will always continue to make grammatical sense, while the relative clause by itself never does.
Return to the main Relative clauses page.

Here are the earlier examples, with the verb at the end of the relative clause in italics.  Note that where the verb is in two parts, the conjugated verb comes after the "generic" one [infinitives or past participles are "generic" in the sense that they are not conjugated to agree with the subject of the action]:
 

Vier Studenten, die unglaublich gesund sind, sitzen in der Mensa und essen. Four students who are unbelievably healthy are sitting in the cafeteria and eating.
Ludwig trinkt ein Glas Möhrensaft, der gut für seine Augen ist. Stefan is drinking a glass of carrot juice, which is good for his eyes.
Das Olivenöl in dem vegetarischen Nudelgericht, das Johanna isst, wird aus ihrem schlechten Cholesterin gutes Cholesterin machen. The olive oil in the vegetarian pasta which Johanna is eating will make good cholesterol out of her bad cholesterol.
Das passiert während der zwanzig Kilometer, die sie jeden Tag mit dem Rad von und zur Uni fährt. That happens during the 20 kilometers which she rides on her bike every day to the university and back.
Der Jogurt, den Hans jeden Tag genießt, hilft Krebs verhindern. The yogurt which Hans savors every day helps prevent cancer.
Hans trinkt auch ein Glas Orangensaft, in dem er eine Vitamintablette aufgelöst hat. Hans is also drinking a glass of orange juice, in which he has dissolved a vitamin pill.
Karin isst eine Portion Müsli, die mit Vitaminen vollgepumpt ist. Karin is eating a serving of Müsli, which is pumped full of vitamins.

Return to the main Relative clauses page.

How to choose the correct relative pronoun--More examples

To begin with, here are some variations on the example just given on the main page, with the initial main clause changed in each of the three cases so that "der Laden" appears in the main clause in the Nominative, Accusative, Dative and Genitive respectively, but with the relative clauses unchanged.  The purpose of this is to demonstrate that the case of the relative pronoun depends on its function in the relative clause, not on the function of its antecedent in the main clause.

Beispiel 1:
 

Das ist der Laden, der (Nom.) die besten Gummibärchen verkauft.
Wir gehen in den Laden, der (Nom.) die besten Gummibärchen verkauft.

Wir sind in dem Laden, der (Nom.) die besten Gummibärchen verkauft.

Wer ist der Besitzer des Ladens, der (Nom.) die besten Gummibärchen verkauft?
That is the store that sells the best gummi-bears.

We are going into the store that sells the best gummi-bears.
We are in the store that sells the best gummi-bears.

Who is the owner of the store that sells the best gummi-bears?

Das ist der Laden, den (Acc.) ich liebe.
Wir gehen in den Laden, den (Acc.) ich liebe.

Wir sind in dem Laden, den (Acc.) ich liebe.

Wer ist der Besitzer des Ladens, den (Acc.) ich liebe?
That is the store (that) I love.
We are going into the store (that) I love.

We are in the store (that) I love.

Who is the owner of the store (that) I love?
Das ist der Laden, dem (Dat.) ich €20.000 schulde.
Wir gehen in den Laden, dem (Dat.) ich €20.000 schulde.

Wir sind in dem Laden, dem (Dat.) ich €20.000 schulde.

Wer ist der Besitzer des Ladens, dem (Dat.) ich €20.000 schulde?
That is the store to which I owe €20,000.

We are going into the store to which I owe €20,000.
We are in the store to which I owe €20,000.

Who is the owner of the store to which I owe €20,000?

  • In the first row, the store is the subject of the action in the relative clause (it sells the gummi-bears), and hence is referred to by a relative pronoun in the nominative (der).
  • In the second row, the store is the direct object of my love in the relative clause (I love it), and so is referred to by a relative pronoun in the accusative (den).
  • In the third row, the store is the indirect object of the verb "schulden" (to owe) in the relative clause, and so is referred to by a relative pronoun in the dative case (dem). ["Schulden" works like "geben": what I owe someone (e.g. a book, an apology) is in the accusative; the person or corporate entity owed is in the dative.]
In each case, the above explanation applies regardless of the grammatical case of "der Laden" in the main clause.

Here is a series of further examples.  In order to continue to illustrate the point that the case of the relative pronoun depends on its grammatical function in the relative clause and not not  on the grammatical funtion of the antecedent in the main clause, all of the following examples are given in groups of three with the same main clause followed by a relative pronoun in the nominative, accusative or dative case:

Beispiel 2:
 

Beethoven, der (Nom.) von 1770 bis 1827 lebte, war ein genialer Komponist. Beethoven, who lived from 1770 to 1827, was a brilliant composer.
Beethoven, den (Acc.) eine Krankheit langsam völlig taub machte, war ein genialer Komponist. Beethoven, whom an illness slowly made completely deaf, was a brilliant composer.
Beethoven, dem (Dat.) Mozarts Erzfeind Antonio Salieri 1794 Unterricht gab, war ein genialer Komponist. Beethoven, whom Mozart's nemesis Antonio Salieri gave lessons in 1794, was a brilliant composer.
  • In the first case, Beethoven is the subject of the action in the relative clause (he is living), and hence is referred to by a relative pronoun in the nominative (der).
  • In the second case, Beethoven is the direct object of the verb "machen" (the illness is making him sick), and so is referred to by a relative pronoun in the accusative (den).
  • In the third case, Beethoven is the recipient of the action described by the verb "geben" (he is given lessons), and so is referred to by a relative pronoun in the dative case (dem).
Beispiel 3:
 
Marlene Dietrich, die (Nom.) später Hauptrollen in Witness for the Prosecution, A Foreign Affair, Touch of Evil und Stage Fright spielte, hatte ihren ersten großen Erfolg in dem Film Der blaue Engel. Marlene Dietrich, who later played lead parts in Witness for the Prosecution, A Foreign Affair, Touch of Evil and Stage Fright, had her first great success in the film The Blue Angel.
Marlene Dietrich, über die (Akk.) Hemingway schrieb "If she had nothing more than her voice, she could break your heart with it", hatte ihren ersten großen Erfolg in dem Film Der blaue Engel. Marlene Dietrich, about whom Hemingway wrote, "If she had nothing more than her voice, she could break your heart with it," had her first great success in the film The Blue Angel.
Marlene Dietrich, der (Dat.) das Pentagon die "Medal of Freedom" für ihr Engagement im USO im 2. Weltkrieg gab, hatte ihren ersten großen Erfolg in dem Film Der blaue Engel. Marlene Dietrich, whom the Pentagon gave the Medal of Freedom for her engagement in the USO during World War II, had her first great success in the film The Blue Angel.
  • In the first case, Marlene Dietrich is the subject of the action in the relative clause (she plays the lead parts), and hence is referred to by a relative pronoun in the nominative (die).
  • In the second case, Marlene Dietrich is the object of the preposition "über" (über die = about whom), which takes the accusative when it means "about" (as in "write about"), and so is referred to by a relative pronoun in the accusative (die).  The combination of relative pronouns and prepositions is described in more detail in the next section.
  • In the third case, Marlene Dietrich is the recipient of the action described by the verb "geben" (she is given the Medal of Freedom), and so is referred to by a relative pronoun in the dative case (der).
Beispiel 4:
 
Kennen Sie den deutschen Basketballspieler, der (Nom.) 2011 mit den Dallas Mavericks die NBA-Meisterschaft gewonnen hat?  Do you know the German basketball player who won the NBA Championship with the Dallas Mavericks in 2011?
Kennen Sie den deutschen Basketballspieler, den (Acc.) man auch "Dirkules" nennt? Do you know the German basketball player whom people also call "Dirkules"?
Kennen Sie den deutschen Basketballspieler, dem (Dat.) es als erstem Europäer gelang, den MVP Award der NBA zu gewinnen? Do you know the German basketball player who was the first European to succeed in winning the NBA MVP award?
  • In the first case, the basketball player [his name is Dirk Nowitzki] is the subject of the action in the relative clause (he won the NBA Championship), and hence is referred to by a relative pronoun in the nominative (der).
  • In the second case, the basketball player [Nowitzki] is the direct object of the verb "nennen" (people sometimes call [nennen] him "Dirkules"), and so is referred to by a relative pronoun in the accusative (den).
  • In the third case, the basketball player [Nowitzki] is the object of the dative verb "gelingen" (to succeed: he succeeded in winning the NBA MVP Award), and so is referred to by a relative pronoun in the dative case (dem).
Beispiel 5:
 
Viele Leute sind von Heidi Klum fasziniert, die (Nom.) aus Bergisch Gladbach kommt. Many people are fascinated by Heidi Klum, who comes from Bergisch Gladbach.
Viele Leute sind von Heidi Klum fasziniert, die (Acc.) der Sänger Seal 2005 geheiratet hat.  Many people are fascinated by Heidi Klum, whom the singer Seal married in 2005.
Viele Leute sind von Heidi Klum fasziniert, mit der (Dat.) Seal seit 2005 verheiratet ist. Many people are fascinated by Heidi Klum, to whom Seal has been married since 2005.
  • In the first case, Heidi Klum is the subject of the action in the relative clause (she comes from Bergisch Gladbach), and hence is referred to by a relative pronoun in the nominative (die).
  • In the second case, Heidi Klum is the direct object of the verb "heiraten" (to marry: Seal married her), and so is referred to by a relative pronoun in the accusative (die).
  • In the third case, Heidi Klum is the object of the preposition "mit" (mit der = with whom, though in this case one would say "to whom" in English), which takes the dative, and so she is referred to by a relative pronoun in the dative (der).  The combination of relative pronouns and prepositions is described in more detail in the next section.
Beispiel 6:
 
Hartmut hält nicht viel von den Scorpions, die (Nom.) die erfolgreichste deutsche Rockband aller Zeiten sind. Hartmut does not think much of the Scorpions, who are the most successful German rock band of all time.
Hartmut hält nicht viel von den Scorpions, die (Acc.) Gitarrist Rudolf Schenker 1965 gründete (als Hartmut geboren wurde). Hartmut does not think much of the Scorpions, whom guitarrist Rudolf Schenker founded in 1965 (when Hartmut was born).
Hartmut hält nicht viel von den Scorpions, denen (Dat.) 1991 mit Wind of Change (inspiriert von Gorbachevs "glasnost" Politik) ihr größter Hit gelang. Hartmut does not think much of the Scorpions, who succeeded in creating their biggest hit in 1991 with "Wind of Change" (inspired by Gorbachev's glasnost policy). 
  • In the first case, the Scorpions are the subject of the action in the relative clause (they are the most successful German rock band), and hence are referred to by a relative pronoun in the nominative (die).
  • In the second case, the Scorpions are the direct object of the verb "gründen" (to found: Schenker gründete die Scorpions 1965), and so are referred to by a relative pronoun in the accusative (die).
  • In the third case, the Scorpions are the object of the dative verb "gelingen" (to succeed in doing something: ein Hit gelang ihnen, i.e. they succeeded in creating a hit), and so are referred to by a relative pronoun in the dative case (denen). [Note: in English, succeeding is something you do; in German, "gelingen" is something that happens to you, i.e. you're the (dative) object.  The subject of this verb in German is the thing you succeed in creating, in this case, the hit song.]
Return to the main Relative clauses page.

Relative pronouns with prepositions--More examples

A barely relevant (and slightly rude) joke regarding the placement of the preposition before the relative pronoun

An American is in London in front of Big Ben, and asks a passer-by:

"Excuse me, sir, what's that I'm looking at?"

The passer-by cannot help correcting the American's grammar: "You know you must never end a sentence with a preposition such as 'at'!"

"Oh, I'm sorry," says the American, "what's that I'm looking at, asshole?"

[To properly make the suggested correction, he would have had to say something awkwardly formal such as "What is that at which I am looking?" or to rephrase the question entirely. Unfortunately, this joke does not translate into German [and so is barely relevant]: "to look at something" is expressed in German by the separable verb "sich etwas ansehen" and does not involve a preposition at all.  What is relevant is that no variant of this joke could ever be translated into German, because in German it would not be possible to put a preposition anywhere but in front of "its" noun.]

Return to the main Relative clauses page.

Wo-Compounds in Place of "Preposition + Relative Pronoun"

The combination "preposition + relative pronoun" may sometimes be replaced by a wo-compound.  This can only be done if the antecedent is not a person, It occasionally sounds awkward, and it is almost never necessary to do this ==> this is something you should be able to recognize, but will not be required to produce yourself.  Here is how this would work for the last set of examples on the main page:
 
Jeff schreibt eine Prüfung über Relativsätze, vor denen er keine Angst mehr hat [which he is no longer afraid of]. Jeff schreibt eine Prüfung über Relativsätze, wovor er keine Angst mehr hat.
Er hat diese Webseite gelesen, an die ihn seine Lehrerin erinnert hat [of/about which his teacher reminded him] Er hat diese Webseite gelesen, woran ihn seine Lehrerin erinnert hat.
Die Fragen, auf die er problemlos antworten kann [which he can answer without difficulty], machen ihm Spaß. Die Fragen, worauf er problemlos antworten kann, machen ihm Spaß.
Die Webseite hat Hartmut, auf den Jeff nach der Prüfung ein alkoholfreies Bier trinken wird [to whose health Jeff will drink a non-alcoholic beer after the exam], fantastisch gemacht. Here, you cannot use a wo-compound, because the antecedent of the relative pronoun is a person (Hartmut).

Here are some more examples of this:
 

Das ist das rostige Messer, mit dem ich mir früher die Nägel geschnitten habe.
Das ist das rostige Messer, womit ich mir früher die Nägel geschnitten habe.
This is the rusty knife with which I used to cut my nails.
Hier ist die Schere, mit der ich sie jetzt schneide.
Hier ist die Schere, womit ich sie jetzt schneide.
Here are the scissors with which I cut them now.
Ich bin der Frau dankbar, von der ich die Schere gekauft habe.
Ich bin der Frau dankbar, wovon ich die Schere gekauft habe.
I am grateful to the woman from whom I bought the scissors.
[Here, you cannot use a wo-compound, because the antecedent of the relative pronoun is a person (the woman).]

Return to the main Relative clauses page.

The relative pronouns wer, wo & was--More examples

In order to be able to choose the correct form of der/das/die to use as the relative pronoun, the relative clause must refer to a specific noun whose gender and case can be determined. In some cases, this is not possible. In these cases, where the antecedent is abstract or there is no antecedent at all, wer, wo and was are used as the relative pronouns.

Wer

wer never has an antecedent. It is used to mean whoever, the person who, or he/she who.  Here are some more examples:
 
Wer nicht hören will, muß fühlen. Whoever doesn't want to hear, has to feel. [Usually used to justify corporal punishment of children: if they won't listen, they have to feel the punishment.]
Wer wagt, gewinnt. Whoever dares, wins. [Sort of a positive reformulation of the English "Nothing ventured, nothing gained."]
Wer weiß, wofür das gut ist. Who knows what that's good for. [Check out this same example in the section on "was" below!]
Wenn ich nur wüßte, wer das war! If only I knew who that was! [Or: If only I knew who did that!]
Ich habe keine Ahnung, wem ich meinen SPAM gegeben habe :( I have no idea to whom I gave my SPAM.
Wer A sagt, muss auch B sagen. Whoever says A also has to say B (i.e. an idea has to be followed through logically to its consequences)
Wer A sagt, muß nicht B sagen. Er kann auch erkennen, daß A falsch war. Whoever says A doesn't necessarily have to say B. He can also recognize that A was wrong.

Note that wer has no antecedent in each of these cases.  The most common uses of wer as a relative pronoun in this way are in proverbial expressions (as in the first two examples) and in indirect questions (as in the last two examples.  An indirect question does not end with a question mark, but is a statement about one's ignorance of some fact which implies a question about that fact.).

Return to the main Relative clauses page.

Wo

Wo means where, and is used when the antecedent is a place.  If the place has a proper name and no article (Berlin, Disneyland, Deutschland, Kroger), you must use wo to refer to it in a relative clause.  If the place has an article (die Schweiz, die Türkei, das Klassenzimmer), you can use wo or you can use in + the appropriate form of der/das/die:
 
Von 1949-1990 war Bonn, wo Beethoven 1770 geboren wurde, die Hauptstadt der Bundesrepublik Deutschland. From 1949-1990, Bonn, where Beethoven was born in 1770, was the capital of the Federal Republic of Germany.
Die Hauptstadt von Österreich ist Wien, wo Beethoven 1827 gestorben ist. The capital of Austria is Vienna, where Beethoven died in 1827.
In Bonn kann man das Haus sehen, wo Beethoven geboren wurde.
In Bonn kann man das Haus sehen, in dem Beethoven geboren wurde.
In Bonn one can see the house where Beethoven was born.
In Bonn one can see the house in which Beethoven was born.
In Wien gehe ich immer ins Café Freud, wo ich gern Zigarren rauche.
In Wien gehe ich immer ins Café Freud, in dem ich gern Zigarren rauche.
In Vienna, I always to go to the Café Freud, where I like to smoke cigars.
In Bonn und in Wien gibt es Märkte, wo man billig und lecker essen kann. In Bonn and Vienna there are markets where one can eat cheaply and tastily.

Return to the main Relative clauses page.

Colloquial Usage of Wo

Wo is also used sometimes to replace any of the other relative pronouns. This is considered non-standard usage, and we will mark it wrong if you do this in this class, but it is something you are likely to hear occasionally, especially in Southern Germany and Austria.  In Swiss German, wo is actually the only relative pronoun!
 
Der Mann, wo gestern hier war, war nicht sehr nett.
[Standard German: Der Mann, der gestern hier war, war nicht sehr nett.]
The man who was here yesterday was not very nice.
Er wollte das Radio haben, wo du mir zum Geburtstag gegeben hast.
[Standard German: Er wollte das Radio haben, das du mir zum Geburtstag gegeben hast.]
He wanted to steal the radio (which) you gave me for my birthday.

Return to the main Relative clauses page.
 

Was

(i) Without an antecedent, was is used to mean what or whatever.  Here are some more examples:
 
Was in Florida in der Präsidentschaftswahl 2000 passiert ist, geht unter keine Kuhhaut. What hapened in Florida in the 2000 presidential elections goes under no cow's skin [i.e. is unheard of, outrageous].
Was dem deutschen Wein international einen schlechten Ruf gibt ist, daß so viel Liebfraumilch, Zeller Schwarze Katz und Piesporter exportiert wird. What gives German wine a bad reputation internationally is that so much Liebfraumilch, Zeller Schwarze Katz and Piesporter is exported [these are cheap, sweet wines].
Niemand weiß, was wirklich Mozarts Tod verursacht hat. No one knows what really caused Mozart's death.
Niemand sagt mir je, was los ist. No one ever tells me what's going on.
Was nicht ist, kann noch werden. What isn't [the case yet] can still become [the case].

Note that was has no antecedent in each of these cases.

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(ii) Was is used to refer to indefinite nouns or pronouns such as alles, etwas, nichts, das Beste, das Schönste, das Neueste.  In these cases, the best translation is an optional that. It will be natural for you to remember to use was in these cases, since you will not be able to decide on a gender for words such as alles, which will remind you that you cannot use der/das/die.  Here are some more examples of this [A & B are fighting...]:
 

A: Alles, was ich mache, ist falsch. [alles ==> was] A: Everything (that) I do is wrong.
B: Sag mir etwas, was ich nicht schon weiß. [etwas ==> was] B: Tell me something (that) I don't already know.
A: Ich kann nichts machen, was dich nicht wütend macht. [nichts ==> was] A: I can't do anything that doesn't make you mad.
B: Das Beste, was du tun kannst, ist, mich endlich in Ruhe zu lassen. [das Beste ==> was] B: The best thing (that) you can do is to finally leave me alone.
A: Aber ein Leben ohne dich ist das Schlimmste, was ich mir vorstellen kann. [das Schlimmste ==> was] A: But a life without you is the worst thing (that) I can imagine.

Return to the main Relative clauses page.

(iii) Finally, was may refer back to a whole clause, in which case it can be translated as which, or which is something (that). Again, it will be natural for you to remember to use was in these cases, since you will not be able to decide on a gender for an entire clause, which will remind you that you cannot use der/das/die.  Here are some more examples of this.  Note in the first two pairs of examples that the possibility of using was to refer to the entire previous clause enables German to make some distinctions that English has to leave ambiguous:
 

Viele Leute kaufen die neueste Justin Bieber CD, was ich furchtbar finde. Lots of people buy the newest Justin Bieber CD, which I find terrible.
[Here, the use of was means the relative clause refers to the entire previous clause, i.e. I find it horrible that people buy Justin Bieber CDs.]
Viele Leute kaufen die neueste Justin Bieber CD, die ich furchtbar finde. Lots of people buy the newest Justin Bieber CD, which I find terrible.
[Here, the use of die means the relative clause refers specifically to the Justin Bieber CD, i.e. I find the CD horrible (which does of course suggest I also find it horrible that people buy it).]
Susanne geht mit Jakob zum Justin Bieber Konzert, was ihn glücklich macht. Susanne goes with Jakob to the Justin Bieber concert, which makes him happy.
[Here, the use of was means the relative clause refers to the entire previous clause, i.e. Jakob is happy because Susanne is going to the concert with him.]
Susanne geht mit Jakob zum Justin Bieber Konzert, das ihn glücklich macht. Susanne goes with Jakob to the Justin Bieber concert, which makes him happy.
[Here, the use of das means the relative clause refers specifically to the Justin Bieber concert, i.e.the concert is what is making Jakob happy.]
Während des Konzerts schwitzt Justin Bieber auf Jakob, was ihn ungeheuer glücklich macht. During the concert, the Justin Bieber sweats on Jakob, which makes him incredibly happy.
[Here, was needs to be used: it is the entire previous clause, the fact that Justin Bieber sweats on him, that makes Jakob so happy.]

Return to the main Relative clauses page.
 

Wo-Compounds

Wo-compounds must be used when a preposition is combined with wo (==>wohin, woher) or was used as described above
 
Viele Leute möchten wissen, wohin die ganzen verlorenen Strümpfe und Kugelschreiber gehen. Many people want to know where all the lost socks and pens go.
Andere Leute fragen, woher die vielen Fussel in ihren Bauchnäbeln kommen. Other people ask, where the many bits of fluff in their belly-buttons come from.
Worüber man nachdenkt ist eine persönliche Entscheidung. [über + was = worüber; use was since there's no antecedent] What one spends time thinking about is a personal decision.
Es würde zu lange dauern, alles aufzuschreiben, wofür ich mich interessiere. [für + was = wofür; was refers to alles] It would take too long to write down everything (that) I'm interested in.
Das ist das letzte Beispiel.  Jetzt kann ich ins Bett gehen, worüber ich mich sehr freue. [über + was = worüber; was refers to the entire previous clause, i.e. I'm happy about the fact that I can go to bed now.] This is the last example.  Now I can go to bed, which I'm very happy about.

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