When the Nebensatz is the object of a Hauptsatz, should we use a pronoun for it in the Hauptsatz?

Today I asked my teacher, she explained, and I got more questions, so here I write it, maybe you can add something to it, helping me and others who see these comments:

1) main question:

Which one is correct?

1a) Ich weiss, was Sie gesagt haben.

1b) Ich weiss das (or es), was Sie gesagt haben.

Teacher: bother are correct, but 1a is more common.

2) what if a verb has an obligatory preposition?

Which one is correct?

2a) Ich erinnere mich, was Sie gesagt haben.

2b) Ich erinnere mich daran, was Sie gesagt haben.

Teacher: 2a is wrong, 2b is correct. When the verb has a preposition, it should be written with "da" to mention the coming next verb here.

3) what if the Nebensatz is a zu infinitive?

Which one is correct?

3a) Ich erinnere mich, dieses Buch zu lesen.

3b) Ich erinnere mich daran, dieses Buch zu lesen.

Teacher: both are correct (to be fair, maybe I could not understand her correctly).

Now I am thinking of something similar:

4) what if the Nebesatz explains is the object of a preposition of a substantive?

Which one is correct?

4a) Der Bedarf, was Ich hatte, ist höher jetzt.

4b) Der Bedarf daran, was Ich hatte, ist höher jetzt.

5) what if the Nebensatz of a preposition of a substantive is a zu infinitive?

Which one is correct?

5a) Der Bedarf, etwas zu essen, ist höher jetzt.

5b) Der Bedarf daran, etwas zu essen, ist höher jetzt.

  • 2a is actually correct, too. Apr 16, 2021 at 6:33
  • Ich: should be lowercased (ich). Common word order with jetzt: XY ist jetzt höher. Apr 16, 2021 at 10:29
  • 1a and 1b actually have different meanings. 1a means "I (still) know what you said" in the sense of "I remember you saying it." 1b means "I (already) know what you (just) said" in the sense of "You didn't tell me anything new by saying it." Apr 16, 2021 at 16:39
  • The main question was also asked here. Apr 21, 2021 at 16:23
  • 1
    4 kann semantisch nicht funktionieren. Wenn der Bedarf jetzt höher ist, dann kann es nicht der sein, den Du hattest. Der Bedarf ist jetzt höher - fertig. Evtl. der Bedarf an etwas Bestimmten - Streicheleinheiten, Wasser, Geld, Internetbandbreite, ... . "Der Bedarf den Du hattest war niedriger, damals." Das geht dagegen semantisch. Apr 23, 2021 at 19:51

2 Answers 2

  1. both correct, different meaning.
    a) I recall what you said ..
    b) I know exactly that, ... what you said

    2a) wrong, needs a link to something (daran) .. without, wrong
    2b) ok

    3a/b - both, in principle wrong
    3a) would mean .. : I remind myself to read this book (bit of nonsense)
    3b) nearly same as 3a)
    correct would be the reference into the PAST, when I did something .. like :
    "Ich erinnere mich daran, dass ich dieses Buch gelesen hatte" (possible also, but not same correct "gelesen habe". Because the action was in the past and ended in the past (hatte = ok). "habe" means something that is not really finished, but more dialect, spoken in Southern Germany.

    4a/b both wrong, use : "den" not "was"
    correct : Der Bedarf, den ich (1999) hatte, ist jetzt (heute) höher.

    5a/b both wrong ( but different )
    5a) change to "jetzt höher" :
    Der Bedarf, etwas zu essen, ist jetzt höher (no need to say, but implicitly referenced is the past: "jetzt höher ... als noch vor einem Jahr" )
    means like: the need, to eat something, is higher than a year ago.

    5b) "daran" not ok, since "daran" needs a reference. Unless "daran" is known, and all know what it is, it is wrong.
    example: you talk about building houses with bricks. then you could say :
    Der Bedarf daran ist gestiegen / Der Bedarf daran ist gößer als vorher. ..
    because "daran" directly references the formerly mentioned "bricks".

    hope this helps

First, I'm not really qualified to answer this one, but it's gone unanswered for a few days so I thought I'd give it a shot. If I'm wrong about anything then I assume someone will comment about it and we'll both learn something.

I think if a subclause is truly the subject or object of the main clause then the rule is fairly simple: if the subclause is included after where you'd use a noun, then you put es as a placeholder in the main clause:

Es ist wichtig, genug Schlaf zu bekommen.
(It's important to get enough sleep.)

Sie sagten es uns jeden Tag, genug Schlaf zu bekommen.
(They told us every day to get enough sleep.)

If the subclause is used in the same position a noun would normally go, then the es isn't needed:

Genug Schlaf zu bekommen ist wichtig.
(To get enough sleep is important.)

Jeden Tag sagten sie uns, genug Schlaf zu bekommen.
(Every day they told us to get enough sleep.)

But I think this is normally done with a zu clause, which isn't covered in any of your examples. So I think what you're really talking about is a type of relative clause. In this type of the clause the entire clause isn't the subject or object, but a certain element within it which is marked with a relative pronoun, either der (properly inflected), certain question words such as was, da- or wo-. A general summary of relative clauses is given at Dartmouth and at UW-M#1 & UW-M#2.

Both Dartmouth and UW-M give rules for when to use d relative pronouns vs. w relative pronouns. The upshot seems to be that you use d when the noun being referred to is "clearly defined" in some sense. For example:

Ich bringe das Buch zurück, das ich gestern geliehen habe.
(I'm returning the book that I borrowed yesterday.)

In this case das Buch is clearly defined so das is used. But etwas doesn't really define anything so (at least according to Dartmouth) it's better to use was with it:

Ich bringe etwas zurück, was ich gestern geliehen habe.
(I'm returning something that I borrowed yesterday.)

The phrase "clearly defined" is actually rather vague, so I gather there is often room for interpretation on whether to use a d word or a w word. But if there is no definition at all then it's certain that the w word would be used.

Ich gebe zurück, was ich gestern geliehen habe.
(I'm returning what I borrowed yesterday.)

Wir fahren, wohin noch niemand zuvor gefahren ist.
(We're going where no one has gone before.)

In the d word case, it seems unlikely that es would be needed because the noun would have already been introduced in the main clause. In w case I think it's basically the same rule as for zu clauses, namely use the es as a placeholder if you need to refer to something that is specified later in the sentence:

Es wird zurückgegeben, was ich gestern geliehen habe.
(It's being returned, that which I borrowed yesterday.)

I don't think adding es where it's not needed is really wrong; it may just be redundant or it may change the emphasis a bit.

I think the main point is that all the different subcases you're asking about don't really affect the final outcome. You usually don't have to memorize every possible permutation of a rule once you know the general principle. There are some rules which have oddball exceptions; the rule about no articles when you're describing someone's profession (e.g. Ich bin Student) comes to mind. But you usually don't discover that kind of thing by asking about every possible such exception, as in "What about vehicles? What about buildings? What about animals? etc." until you finally hit on "What about professions?" A good grammar or a good teacher will explain this kind of thing when it occurs without your having to ask so many questions.

So I think both versions of the examples you gave are probably correct, though there may be a subtle shift in meaning as Tilman Schmidt mentioned in a comment. As in English, adding an extra indefinite pronoun is rarely wrong and I would think it counts as just a another way to phrase the same basic meaning. The sentences

I'm returning it, the book I borrowed yesterday.
I'm returning the book I borrowed yesterday.

are both correct and both mean about the same thing. And I think the same thing happens in German; whether to include the es is up to your choice.

  • Sie sagten es uns jeden Tag, genug Schlaf zu bekommen and Jeden Tag sagten sie uns, genug Schlaf zu bekommen are well-formed sentences, but jmdm. sagen, etw. zu tun has a different meaning in German. At least the latter sentence would read They told us everyday that they get enough sleep! You meant jmdm. sagen, dass er etw. tun soll (Don't tell me what to do! = Sag mir nicht, was ich tun soll!). In the example: Sie sagten uns, dass wir genug schlafen sollen. That doesn't go well with es, however. May 6, 2021 at 20:54
  • Es wird zurückgegeben, was ich gestern geliehen habe is special. Es is kind of the generic impersonal passive placeholder, even though it can be replaced by the relative clause. A specific placeholder for the relative clause would look like that: Es wird das zurückgegeben, was ich gestern geliehen habe. And here we note an important thing: the relative pronoun was usually has das as correlate/placeholder (das, was), Es, was is rather hypothetical. May 6, 2021 at 21:07
  • @amadeusamadeus: I see what you're saying in the first comment; actually it's ambiguous in English too: "They told us, 'We get enough sleep.'" vs. "They told us we get enough sleep." The second version can be interpreted as the first. On the second comment, so you'd use es when it's a placeholder for a fact, and das when it's a placeholder for a thing. Thanks for the information, it should be helpful.
    – RDBury
    May 7, 2021 at 6:10

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