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In this article it is explained how wo-words can be used as relative pronouns but when reading it I am a bit confused due to the previous knowledge I have with definite article being used relative pronouns (with alternate conjugations of course). How do these things go with each other? One particular question which sticks out is how do I know if I should wo-word or definite article as relative pronoun?

wo-words: worauf, woran, womit, ...

An example sentence:

Das ist das einzige, woran ich mich erinnern kann.

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    The words used as relative pronouns are not the same as definite articles. For one thing they are declined differently; compare Du solltest den Leuten kein Geld geben. and Wer sind die Leute, denen du kein Geld geben solltest? (Based on an example here.)
    – RDBury
    Mar 29, 2022 at 4:30
  • When reading the linked article, I can't really understand the "wierdness" of "wo-"words that's opinionated there - the writer apparently wasn't aware that English has (or, used to have) an absolute parallel construct - even a literal translate - with the pair of "wherefore/therefore" (which hasn't got anything to do with location as well).
    – tofro
    Mar 31, 2022 at 7:00
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    I (German native speaker, very interested in German language) have never heard the term "wo-word" (or "Wo-Wort") before. I had to google for it. So that not everyone else has to search for it, I've put an explanatory line at the end of the post. Mar 31, 2022 at 19:50
  • I am particularly interested in wo-word as relative pronoun... could you please help me?
    – Babu
    Mar 31, 2022 at 19:55
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    grammis.ids-mannheim.de/systematische-grammatik/368 has an overview of elements that can introduce relative clauses.
    – David Vogt
    Apr 1, 2022 at 9:14

1 Answer 1

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You must have misunderstood something. Your question makes no sense because there is no definite article or relative pronouin that begins with "wo-" or is the part after "wo-" in an existing wo-word.

Definite articles

D definite article is a word that accompanies a noun, indicates it's grammatical gender (at least in languages where nouns have genders) and marks the nous as being not just any thing but exactly this thing. (It indicates the nouns definiteness.)

German has exactly 6 definite articles:

  • der (the)
    Der Mann schläft. The man is sleeping.
  • die (the)
    Die Frau schläft. The woman is sleeping.
  • das (the)
    Das Kind schläft. The child is sleeping.
  • des (the)
    Das Kleid des Kindes ist rot. The dress of the child is red.
  • dem (the)
    Das Kleid gehört dem Kind. The dress belongs to *the child.
  • den (the)
    Das Kind sieht den Mann. The child sees the man.

There are no other words in German that are definite articles. None of these words begins with "wo-". So, non of them is a wo-word. Also none of these 6 words is the part after "wo-" of any existing wo-word.


Relative pronouns

A relative pronoun is a word that initiates a relative clause.

German has exactly 20 relative pronouns. You can arrange them in 3 groups:

Group 1:

  • der
    Der Mann, der dort saß, lächelte. - The man who sat there smiled.
  • die
    Die Frau, die dort saß, lächelte. - The woman who sat there smiled.
  • das
    Das Kind, das dort saß, lächelte. - The child who sat there smiled.
  • dem
    Der Mann, dem ich zuhörte, lächelte. - The man who who I was listening to smiled.
  • den
    Der Mann, den ich sah, lächelte. - The man who who saw smiled.
  • denen
    Die Männer, denen ich zuhörte, lächelten. - The men who who I was listening to smiled.
  • deren
    Die Frau, deren Hund bellte, lächelte. - The woman whose dog was barking smiled.
  • dessen
    Der Mann, dessen Hund bellte, lächelte. - The woman whose dog was barking smiled.
  • derer (rare)
    Er hatte einige Zaubersprüche, derer er sich nicht mehr ganz entsinnen konnte. - He had some spells that he couldn't quite remember.

Group 2:

  • welcher
    Der Mann, welcher dort saß, lächelte. - The man who sat there smiled.
  • welche
    Die Frau, welche dort saß, lächelte. - The woman who sat there smiled.
  • welches
    Das Kind, welches dort saß, lächelte. - The child who sat there smiled.
  • welchem
    Der Mann, welchem ich zuhörte, lächelte. - The man who who I was listening to smiled.
  • welchen
    Der Mann, welchen ich sah, lächelte. - The man who who saw smiled.

Group 3:

  • wer (animate: humans, animals, androids, etc.)
    Wer will, kann gehen. - Whoever wants to can go.
  • was (inanimate: anything else but humans animals etc.)
    Ich mache, was ich will. - I do what I want.
  • wessen (animate)
    Wessen Brot ich esse, dessen Lied singe ich. - Whose bread I eat, whose song I sing.
  • wes (old fashioned, animate)
    Wes Brot ich ess', des Lied ich sing'. - Whose bread I eat, whose song I sing.
  • wen (animate)
    Wen man auch fragt, alle sagen dasselbe. - Whoever you ask, they all say the same thing.
  • wem (animate)
    Ich sage das, wem ich will. - I'll say this to whomever I want.

This list of relative pronouns is complete. No other German word is a relative pronoun. And again: None of them starts with "wo-" or ist the part after "wo-" in a wo-word.


wo-words

There is no category named wo-word or Wo-Wort in German grammar. (I had to google for this term when I read this question.) I found these 16 word that match the definition given in the article linked in the question:

wobei, wodurch, woher, wohin, womit, wonach, woran, worauf, woraus, worein, worin, worum, worüber, wovon, wovor, wozu

All these words are adverbs. (Some of them are pronominal adverbs, some can be used as interrogative adverbs, but they are all adverbs.) There are many more adverbs, most of them do not start with "wo-": hier, draußen, bergauf, heute, darum, deshalb, ...

There is nothing special about adverbs that start with "wo-" (at least not more special than verbs starting with "ab-" or any other prefix) and there is no relation between these adverbs and any articles or pronouns.

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  • I thought group 2 came under wo words. Could you please explain the difference between group 2 and group 1s usage? That js what js making me going crazy
    – Babu
    Mar 31, 2022 at 21:34
  • @Buraian: I added a section about wo-words. About the usage of welch*: Maybe this question can help you: german.stackexchange.com/questions/34045/use-of-den-and-der/… - the point is: You can freely interchange der and welcher if there exists a welch-word, like I did in the examples that I gave in this answer. Apr 1, 2022 at 8:36
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    I really don't know what kind of person would downvote an answer like this but thank you so much!!!
    – Babu
    Apr 1, 2022 at 8:47
  • One question, does there not always exist a welch word
    – Babu
    Apr 1, 2022 at 8:48
  • @Buraian: In genitive case there is no masculine or neuter welch-word. So for »Der Mann, dessen Hund bellte, lächelte.« you must use dessen. Here no welch-word exists. For feminine nouns this is possible but rare and sounds very oldfashioned (»Die Frau, welcher Hund bellte, lächelte.«). So in genitive case you better use deren (»Die Frau, deren Hund bellte, lächelte.«). Plural goes - like often - with feminine: »Die Leute, welcher Hunde bellten, lächelten.« is possible but very rare, so deren fits much better: »Die Leute, deren Hunde bellten, lächelten.« .. Apr 1, 2022 at 8:59

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