relative pronouns with prepositions

Discussion in 'Deutsch (German)' started by Biddlesby, May 6, 2013.

  1. Biddlesby Senior Member

    English (Brit.)
    Hi all,

    In my class I am learning about relative pronouns. However, there is something I don't understand about use with prepositions. My grammar book doesn't provide an answer, and I'm hoping somebody can help.

    I understand that with a preposition, "preposition + relative pronoun" can be substituted with "wo + preposition":

    Der Stuhl, auf dem du sitzt, gehörte meinen Großeltern
    Der Stuhl, worauf du sitzt, gehörte meinen Großeltern

    I also understand that "wo + preposition" has an important place in indirect questions:

    Ich spiele mit dem Hund, womit spielst du?

    What I don't understand, is this:

    Der Hund, mit dem ich spiele, ... // ok
    Der Hund, womit ich spiele, ... // wrong!

    Why does my last example not work?


  2. Gernot Back

    Gernot Back Senior Member

    Cologne, Germany
    German - Germany
    I think your second sentence is just as wrong as your last sentence. Relative pronouns starting with a "w" always have a very general reference. They cannot refer to a concrete single object or being.

    Usually they occur after pronons like das, alles, etwas, vieles etc., substantivized adjectives or they refer to a whole other sentence or clause.

    • Alles, was ich meine, ....
    • Einiges, woran ich einst gaubte, ...
    • Das Schöne, woran ich denke, ...
    • Er sagte er habe geschlafen, woran ich aber nicht glaube /,was ich aber bezweifle
  3. Liam Lew's Senior Member

    I agree with Gernot Back. The relative pronoun "wo" and "wo+preposition" are often misused as in your second and your fourth sentence. "Der Stuhl, worauf du sitzt, gehörte meinen Großeltern." and things like "Das Haus, wo ich 20 Jahre lang wohnte, gehört meiner Großmutter" are wrong. Unforunately this misusage is really common and accepted by many.
  4. Biddlesby Senior Member

    English (Brit.)
    That's really interesting, thank you for your replies. The example with the chair, was lifted straight out of my book "German Grammar", which says the following:

    (On closer reading, that excludes my example with a dog, which is presumably a being rather than a thing.) Wikipedia, however, seems to agree with you (

    I couldn't find any help on, but then again I'm not too good at navigating the site!
  5. Frank78

    Frank78 Senior Member

    It could be too dialectical to be in the Duden and the focus of it is less on grammar but more on vocabularly.
    As long as you want to move to Swabia you don't have to learn it. The rest of the country gets bleeding ears when listening to Jürgen Klinsmann for example and his usage of "wo".

    Just translate the saying "Those where say "those where" are those where can't speak German." :D
  6. Liam Lew's Senior Member

    In many cases it's rather a common mistake than a less common alternative. But I think the links provided by Gernot explain when it's appropriate to use this construction.

    Yes, we use the construction "wo+preposition" for things and not for beings. Another point is that many people linguistically consider pets as "another person". Their pets have male and female names and they're talking to their pet's. And we don't use "wo+preposition" for humans/persons.
  7. Biddlesby Senior Member

    English (Brit.)
    Cool! Thanks for your help everybody, I understand now.
  8. Dan2

    Dan2 Senior Member

    English (US)
    I found this thread very interesting and would like to add a few comments that I believe may be helpful.
    I'm probably going to regret matching sprachgefühls with Gernot, but I think the last sentence is distinctly worse than the "Stuhl worauf" sentence. Both sentences are guilty of using the wo- form in place of preposition + relative pronoun, but the second, in addition, has the fault of using wo- with an animate object (a restriction later mentioned by Biddlesby). Surely "Der Mann, womit ich gesprochen habe" is offensive in a way that "Der Stuhl, worauf du sitzt ..." is not.

    I have the sense (please correct me if I'm wrong) that "Der Stuhl, worauf du sitzt ..." is something that well-educated Germans have learned is considered wrong, while "Der Mann, womit ich gesprochen habe" just sounds bad to any standard-German native speaker. So there are two distinct things going on here.

    Then, in acknowledging that Gernot and Liam are correct about "Der Stuhl, worauf du sitzt ..." being unacceptable to careful speakers, Biddlesby quotes Wikipedia:
    But this is clearly a far more extreme misuse of "wo" than the one that Gernot and Liam were referring to. The great majority of people who would accept things like "Der Stuhl, worauf du sitzt..." would surely not say "Das Buch, wo ich gekauft habe...".
    Actually, one can construct something similar for (British) English: "Those wot say "those wot" are those wot can't speak proper English".

    And finally, getting back to the more common "wo"...
    Would you consider the following an example of this misuse of "wo"?
    As is your sentence, Liam, "wo" here can (I believe) be replaced by preposition + relative pronoun (in this case, "in denen"); on the other hand "wo" seems a better pro-word for a prepositional phrase (here "In betonten Silben") than for a noun phrase (in your example, "Das Haus"), which would justify Bernd's usage.
  9. Gernot Back

    Gernot Back Senior Member

    Cologne, Germany
    German - Germany
    Well, wo is the only exception. It is relative pronoun starting with a "w" that can be used with a concrete reference, provided it is used in a local sense.

    Das Haus, wo du gewohnt hast, .... :tick: (local concrete reference)
    Das Haus, wo abgerissen wurde, ... :cross: (supposedly non-local concrete reference)
    Das Haus, das abgerissen wurde, ... :tick: (non-local concrete reference)
    Das Haus, was abgerissen wurde, ... :cross: (concrete reference)
    Dass das Haus abgerissen wurde, was ich bedauere, ... :tick: (reference to a subordinate clause)
    Für alles, was abgerissen wurde, ... :tick: (general reference to another pronoun)
    Das Alte, was abgerissen wurde, ... :tick: (general reference to a nominalized adjective)
  10. Liam Lew's Senior Member

    Sorry for my confusion, I just wanted to point out that I don't like such sentences and consider such sentences as bad style sometimes. But my consideration depends a bit on the current context. I would always use "in dem/welchem du gewohnt hast" instead of "wo du gewohnt hast". It doesn't sound right to me, at least in formal writing. But if I talk to my friends I would use "wo" too. In Bernd's sentence I would also prefer "wo". For me it depends a bit on the context. But in general the usage of "wo" isn't wrong.
    Last edited: May 10, 2013

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