The question is on the dass-clause in this excerpt from a long speech by Karl Rossmann in Kafka’s Der Verschollene.

Was für Bedenken er [Karls Onkel] gegen diesen Besuch hatte, ist ja jetzt gleichgültig, ich weiß bloß ganz bestimmt, daß nichts in diesem Bedenken war, was Sie,1 Herr2 Pollunder, kränken könnte, der3 Sie4 der beste, der allerbeste Freund meines Onkels sind. Kein anderer kann sich in der Freundschaft meines Onkels auch nur im Entferntesten mit Ihnen vergleichen.

Am I right to understand it in this way?

  1. Sie is in the accusative and the object of kränken.
  2. Herr is in the vocative (‘O! Mr. Pollunder’). Alternatively it could have been Herrn, which would be in the accusative and an apposition to Sie.
  3. der is a relative pronoun in the nominative (referring to Herr Pollunder).
  4. Sie could be either (a) in the nominative and an apposition to der or (b) in the vocative.

I realize that vocative is not part of German grammar as found in grammar books. Maybe I should have said a vocative use of the nominative.

  • For der Sie, see german.stackexchange.com/questions/23618/… I didn’t think of this particular case when I wrote my answer there, but it works the same as der du. Note the verb in third person plural, corresponding to Sie.
    – chirlu
    Dec 5, 2015 at 13:05

1 Answer 1


I’ll answer your questions in the ‘logical’ order.

  1. Yes, it is a vocative (not generally used as a category in German grammar and may be referred to as vocative use of nominative etc. instead). You could instead use the accusative case, in which case it would be an apposition but I feel that sounds less polite, since it explicitly does not vocatively address Mr Pollunder.

I need to reset numbering.

  1. Since we have established the Herr bit, we can leave out the bits in the commas giving us:

    […], was Sie kränken könnte, […]

    This is a normal relative clause where was is the the subject (compare the verb form) and Sie thus must be accusative object.

Another reset required.

  1. Der is indeed a relative pronoun introducing a relative clause which refers to a masculine noun that takes nominative case in the relative clause. No surprises.

  2. As Chirlu stated in his related answer the appended Sie is merely a way used to override the third person singular of der and to allow the following sentence to use the ‘natural’ verb forms.

The fourth answer may require some explanation. Sie cannot be an apposition since that would need to be enclosed in a pair of commas if I understood the punctuation rules correctly. It is also not a vocative in the strict sense. It does not enhance the address of Mr Pollunder but is there for grammatical and syntactical reasons.

Sie is also strictly connected to der: It cannot be moved away.

[…], der der beste Freund Sie sind.

If we had a moveable Sie right behind the der it would have to be an independent part of the sentence; usually that would mean accusative case and being an object.

[…], der Sie{acc} mir vorgestellt hat.

[…], der mir Sie{acc} vorgestellt hat.

Cases with Sie in nominative are rare but possible:

[…], der Sie{nom} heute sind.

[…], der heute Sie{nom} sind. (Contains a high amount of tension.)

The purpose of the Sie affixed to the relative pronoun is to redefine the relative clause’s subject. It is possible to leave it out, but then the sentence would be:

[…], der der beste Freund ist.

It is weird switching between a formal third person plural (Sie) to third person singular just because of a relative clause. The inserted Sie basically overrides the der and governs the verb’s numerus. Inserting other pronouns can even govern the person in question:

[…], der ich der beste Freund bin.

And all of this is merely a verbose form of Chirlu’s already linked answer.

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