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Wessen, dessen, deren, and denen

One topic that tends to intimidate students learning German is the use of these four words: Wessendessenderen, and denen. They are indeed tricky, but they make it possible to construct elegant sentences and are therefore very good to get acquainted with!

 

Wessendessen, and deren can all be translated as "whose." However, unlike "whose" they are each only correct in certain situations. Wessen is related to wer, wen, and wem, i.e. it is asking "who?," but it is possessive. It is used when the "who" of the sentence is not known and could therefore be any gender:

 

Sach ma [Sag mal], wessen Freundin bist du eigentlich?
Tell me, whose friend are you actually?
Caption 42, Die Pfefferkörner: Gerüchteküche

 

Es dachte auch nicht darüber nach, wessen Haferbrei das war.
She also didn't think about whose oat porridge it was.
Caption 19, Märchen - Sagenhaft: Goldlöckchen und die drei Bären
 

Dessen is used when the person or noun in question has already been named or referred to, and is masculine or neuter:

 

Acht Minuten später schickt der Paulianer geschickt Julian Schieber, dessen Schuss aber knapp vorbeigeht.
Eight minutes later the "Paulianer" [someone from St. Pauli] skillfully sends Julian Schieber, whose shot, however, just misses.
Caption 10, Fußball: U21-Nationalmannschaft

 

Deren is used when the person or noun in question has already been named or referred to, and is feminine or plural:

 

Seine königliche Hoheit, der Prinz, wird die Frau heiraten, deren Fuß in diesen Glasschuh passt.
His Royal Highness, the Prince, will marry the woman whose foot fits into this glass slipper.
Caption 83-84, Märchen - Sagenhaft: Aschenputtel

 

Wessendessen, and deren are all genitive relative pronouns. The relative pronoun denen, however, is used for relative clauses involving a plural noun in the dative case, with prepositions such as mitauf, nach, or bei.

 

Es macht einfach Spaß, mit denen Zeit zu verbringen
It is simply fun to spend time with them.
Caption 36, Curly Horses: Pferdeglück auch für Allergiker

 

Und hier sehen wir zwei alte Kutschen, auf denen man im Sommer Kutschfahrten machen kann mit der Familie zusammen.
And here we see two old coaches, upon which you can take coach rides together with your family in the summer.
Caption 38, Berlin: Domäne Dahlem


Further Learning
Searching for any of these words on Yabla German will bring up a lot of examples that can help you solidify your understanding of the topic. You can additionally watch our videos featuring German teacher Barbara and her students working on relative clauses, starting with this one

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