Sometimes I see the wer/was relative clause followed by der, dem, and den. But sometimes it's not. For example (excerpted from here):

Wen ihr einladet, den müsst ihr auch empfangen.

Wen ihr einladet, müsst ihr auch empfangen.

Looks like "den" can be taken out because we can identify the subject (ihr) and object (wen ihr einladet) and the sentence can be comprehensible without it. But I'm not sure. That's just my guess.

The reason why I'm not sure is that every example in my textbook has der/dem/den after the w- clause (wer.../was...):

Wessen Herz rein ist, den habe ich lieb.

Wem du geholfen hast, der hilft dir auch.

Wen ich ehren möchte, der ist er nicht.

Wer den ganzen Tag arbeitet, der ist abends müde.

If the distinction between the subject and the object is clear-cut, is it always allowed to leave out the demonstrative pronouns ("den" and "der" in the above cases) after the wer/was clause?

Also, will the sentence below make the reader confused about who does what, without der or dem? (I mean, I wonder if this sentence can be interpreted in different ways without der or dem):

Wen ich gestern getroffen habe, schenkt ihr ein teures Bild.


1 Answer 1


There are 2 conditions to get a normal sounding sentence. Please note that this is NOT about what is theoretically right or wrong but what is used in daily life and what is NOT used. So... in order to skip the demonstrative pronoun and get an idiomatic sounding sentence 2 conditions should be met:

1) Identity of function

If the person or thing that you are referring to using the relative pronoun has the same grammatical function in both parts of the sentence it is safe to leave out the demonstrative pronoun.

Wen ich sehe, höre ich auch. (Accusativ- Accusative)

Wer das weiß, kann es sagen. (Nominative - Nominative)

and for comparison:

Wen ich sehe, hat auch Geld. (Accusative - Nominative)

Wer das weiß, habe ich gesehen. (Nominative - Accusative)

The second 2 examples are wrong ... at least they feel wrong.

2) Nominative or Accusative

It works only for those 2 cases. It doesn't really work for Dative and not at all for Genitive.

Wem ich vertraue, gebe ich Geld.

This is okay I guess, but with dem it would be much better.

Wessen ich gedenke, (dessen) erinnere ich mich.

As Toscho pointed out in the comments, this is apparently correct but I think in 90% of the cases people would say the sentence with dessen. Without it it sounds artificial and off.

Now... one thing is important to realize.

What is the focus

The relative clause could also be seen as a block of information. Then, not the person or thing the relative pronoun is referring to has a function in the main sentence but the relative clause as a whole... as a box of information. This becomes very obvious when we change the order.

Ich erinnere mich, wessen Brot ich esse.

The object of remembering is NOT the person but the whole fact expressed in the dependent clause. And now we can theoretically switch back.

Wessen Brot ich esse, erinnere ich mich.

This is not very good though so let's do another example.

Ich habe gehört, wer das gemacht hat.

Wer das gemacht hat, habe ich gehört.

This is fine but it does NOT mean the same as this:

Wer das gemacht hat, den habe ich gehört.

The second version means you've heard the person, the first version means you've heard the information.

  • 2
    Nicht Artikel, sondern Demonstrativpronomen. Sieht man eindeutig bei dessen (Artikel: des).
    – chirlu
    Sep 4, 2013 at 10:54
  • @chirlu: stimmt, danke
    – Emanuel
    Sep 4, 2013 at 10:55
  • @Emanuel I don't understand why "Wen ich sehe, hat auch Geld. (Accusative - Nominative)" and "Wer das weiß, habe ich gesehen. (Nominative - Accusative)" are wrong. I'd like you to break it down for me. Is it wrong because there's no "der" and "den" before the verb?
    – Jin
    Sep 4, 2013 at 12:19
  • 2
    @Takkat: I don't see an issue here. If no one says something and if no one writes it, I think it is save to advice learners not to use it. A sentence like the OPs one: "Wen ich gestern getroffen habe, schenkt ihr ein teures Bild." is awful, and I doubt you can find things like this anywhere. It doesn't matter if it is right or wrong. The point is that doing it will not lead to German that sounds idiomatic, proper and correct. My answer is trying to give a guideline what is done in practice.
    – Emanuel
    Sep 4, 2013 at 12:48
  • 2
    2) is wrong. The first example is perfectly valid. I would use it. It might be stylistically sound more upregister but not wrong. The second example is wrong indeed, but it's no example for the point, because there is no identity of function here. It's twice Genitive indeed, but in the relative clause it's a possessive construction and in the main clause it's a Genitive object. You should take an example with twice a Genitive object: Wessen ich mich erinnere, gedenke ich. This is perfectly valid. It sounds utterly uncommon, but this probably due to having two(!) Genitive objects.
    – Toscho
    Sep 4, 2013 at 15:57

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