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In the sentence

Ali hat einen Beruf, [...] ihm gut gefällt.

one sees that "einen Beruf" is accusative, so one would assume that the relative clause has to start with an accusative, too:

Ali hat einen Beruf, den ihm gut gefällt.

However, my German friend tells me this is wrong and it actually requires the nominative der, but he is unable to explain why. Can anyone else?

  • Einen Beruf is accusative. I included that in my edit, which otherwise hopefully preserved what you wanted to ask. – user6191 Oct 28 '14 at 15:46
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No they're not. They take their case according to the function they have (or the preposition they're preceded by) in the sub-clause. That is natural because cases express function in relation to a an activity or verb. A relative clause has a different verb than the main sentence.

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The construction is "etwas (Nom) gefällt jemandem (Dat)". So the person who likes something is in the dative case, while the thing that is liked is in the nominative case. *

*This is different from English "like", where the person is the subject, and the thing the object. You'll often have expressions that have similar meaning in two languages, but construct very differently.

In your sentence, "ihm" is already the dative object and refers to the person. The pronoun replacing the subject of this subordinate cause must be in the nominative case. Therefore "der" is correct.

Ali hat einen Beruf, der ihm gut gefällt.

If you took the construct "jemand (Nom) liebt etwas (Akk)" you'd have a different relationship. Then the object will be the job, the subject the person:

Ali hat einen Beruf, den er sehr liebt.

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    DaF students should be taught in one of their first lessons that every verb affords a certain number of objects (and usually an subject) and determines their cases. Objects can be prepositional phrases wherein the prepositions determines case. Case, gender and number can be visible in different (and multiple) words that together form a nominal phrase (object or subject). Relative clauses (and other true subordinate clauses) constitute a new “verb environment” with new congruencies. – Crissov Oct 29 '14 at 1:35
  • @Crissov: They should, but apparently many aren't. "How do I find out which cases to use?" is a common question for DaF students. – dirkt Oct 29 '14 at 7:28
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You can make the construction more understandable if you make two sentences:

Ali hat einen Beruf und dieser Beruf gefällt ihm gut.

If we now reduce the second sentence to a subclause we substitute the "dieser" for "der", and reorder the rest a bit:

Ali hat einen Beruf, der ihm gut gefällt.

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