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Neuter Relative Pronouns: das or was?

Putting it in the simplest possible terms, a relative pronoun is a specific word in a sentence that has a relative clause. It's much easier to understand when you see an example: 


The book that I read is quite old.


This sentence is dependent upon "that I read" because without these words, it would not be clear which book is meant. The word "that" is the relative pronoun in the sentence. 


In the German language, the relative pronoun is dependent upon the gender of the subject noun: 


Das Buch, das ich gelesen habe, ist ganz alt. 
Der Mann, den ich gesehen habe, war ganz alt. 
Die Frau, die ich gesehen habe, war ganz alt.


As you can see, the definite articles in the nominative case must take on the accusative case as relative pronouns: das/das, der/den, die/die.


But in the case of neuter nominatives, the German word was (usually translated as "what") is also used as a relative pronoun. The use of was as a relative pronoun is generally restricted to two usages, one of which is for neuter substantivized superlatives (nouns based upon adjectives), such as das Beste or das Schönste:


Das Schönste, was ich gelesen habe, war ein Buch von Goethe.


The German word was is also used as a relative pronoun with neuter demonstrative and indefinite pronouns, such as das, dasjenige, dasselbe; alles, einiges, nichts, vieles, manches, weniges, etwas, and so forth.


Das, was Sie hören, ist Musik von Mozart.
Es gibt einiges, was ich noch lernen sollte.


It is incorrect to use the relative pronoun das in the three examples above. 


Further Learning
Here are some examples featuring relative pronouns on Yabla German. See if you can fill in the missing relative pronoun with either das or was:


Gab's etwas,          nicht so gut war?

Was there something that wasn't so good?

Caption 30, Deutschkurs in Tübingen - Weil oder obwohl? - Part 2

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Das Mädchen,            am Spielfeldrand niedlich zu den Jungs hinsah...

The girl who, on the edge of the playing field, looked sweetly at the boys

Captions 2-3, Olli Schulz - Spielerfrau

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Als wäre das Leben,           hier einmal war, verbraucht.

As if the life that once was here were used up

Caption 8, Christina Stürmer - Millionen Lichter

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Er ärgert sich auch über manches,           über ihn geschrieben wird.

he also gets angry about some of what is written about him.

Caption 19, Thomas D - Ärgernisse

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Aspirin ist ein Medikament,           ich nehme, wenn ich Kopfschmerzen habe.

Aspirin is a medication that I take if I have a headache.

Captions 13-14, Deutschkurs in Blaubeuren - Der Relativsatz - Part 16

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Das ist das Beste,           es gibt auf der Welt.

That's the best thing that there is in the world

Caption 36, Monsters of Liedermaching - Ein Pferd

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Milch ist ein Getränk,           ich nicht mag.

Milk is a drink that I do not like.

Caption 29, Deutschkurs in Blaubeuren - Der Relativsatz - Part 16

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Alles,           mit Kommunikation und Sprache zu tun hat.

Everything that has to do with communication and language.

Caption 26, Anja Polzer - Interview - Part 1

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Deinen Namen zu nennen ist wohl das Schönste,           ich sage.

Naming your name is absolutely the most beautiful thing that I say

Caption 35, Xavier Naidoo - Ich kenne nichts (das so schön ist wie du)

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Es gibt am Flughafen wohl nichts,           es nicht gibt.

Indeed, there's nothing that you won't find at the airport.

Caption 42, Flugreisen - Was mache ich, wenn...

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Click on the video links to see if your choices were correct!


Don't feel bad if this seems hard—even native speakers sometimes get it wrong by accident or as slang usage. The full title of the song above by Xavier Naidoo is "Ich kenne nichts (das so schön ist wie du)." According to grammar rules, the das should have been was. It's also a common mistake among native speakers to say or write things like Das Buch, was ich gelesen habe and Das Buch, dass ich gelesen habe. Luckily, we now know the correct way to write it!

Why Me of All People?

And why on Yabla German of all places? Well, that's easy: it's because you want to learn German and you know how great the Yabla language learning system is! But speaking of learning, how do you say phrases like "... of all places" and "... of all people" in German? 


First, a little background on the phrase. The separable German verb ausrechnen, in its standard form, means "to compute," "to figure out," "to calculate," or "to estimate," as in this example: 


Wie rechnet ihr eure Chancen aus zu gewinnen?

What do you estimate your chances of winning are?

Caption 11, Yabla-Filmfestspiele - Preisverleihung

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However, a slang adverb developed out of the past participle of the verb ausrechnen:


Ja, ausgerechnet Stauffenberg. Wer hätte das gedacht?

Yes, Stauffenberg of all people. Who would have thought that?

Caption 54, Die Stunde der Offiziere - Dokudrama über den 20. Juli 1944 - Part 13

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Ich wundere mich ein wenig,

I'm a bit surprised

dass ausgerechnet heute Ihre Sekretärin nicht da ist, Herr General.

that today of all days your secretary isn't here, General.

Captions 54-55, Die Stunde der Offiziere - Dokudrama über den 20. Juli 1944 - Part 8

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Und ausgerechnet im „Skatershop“

And in the skate shop, of all places,

wartete auch schon der nächste Spießer.

the next philistine is waiting too.

Caption 9, Thomas D - Ärgernisse

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Und das ausgerechnet von Hühnern…

And that, of all things, from chickens…

Caption 5, Tierakademie Scheuerhof - Tiertrainer im Hühner-Seminar

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So basically you can use the slang adverb ausgerechnet to mean "... of all" and then whatever the topic of your discussion is. Occasionally, the slang adverb ausgerechnet may be translated otherwise: 


… und wieso man ausgerechnet für die betreffende Firma arbeiten möchte.

… and why you specifically would like to work for the respective company.

Caption 25, Eva erklärt - Bewerbungen

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Of course, this could also have been translated: "... and why you would like to work for this respective company, of all companies." As with all translations, it's best to use whatever catches the meaning and is most graceful at the same time. 


Achtung: sometimes the past participle of ausrechnen shows up and might fool you:


… über hundertsechzig Filme,

… more than one hundred and sixty movies,

hab' ich jetzt mal einfach so grob ausgerechnet.

I've just now roughly estimated.

Caption 38, Kurzfilm-Festival - Shorts at Moonlight

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Further Learning
Look for more examples of ausgerechnet used in a real-world context on Yabla German, and for further study compare the Duden definition of the verb ausrechnen with the slang adverb ausgerechnet.


Thank you for reading this newsletter and keep up the good work! If you have any good ideas for lesson topics, please email them to us at, and you can tweet us @yabla.

Grilling Season

With summer just around the corner, it's time to dust off the grills and get ready for some delicious food. Although you may not be vegetarian or vegan yourself, you probably know somebody who is.



Die Eltern vom Nachbarn,

The parents of our neighbor,

die grillten allerdings auch Sojawürstchen.

though, they also grilled small soy wursts.

Caption 26, Konjugation - Das Verb „grillen“

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So don't forget to pick up a few veggie wursts before your next grilling party, and be sure to get some advice from some vegetarian friends as to which veggie sausages taste better, and which ones taste... wurst!


Ich bin Vegetarier, also außer Fisch, den ess' ich natürlich.

I'm vegetarian, well, except fish, I eat that, of course.

Caption 27, Thomas D - Ärgernisse

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So although eating fish may actually disqualify you as a vegetarian, a lot of people are trying to be more conscientious about what they eat, and buying some non-endangered fish for the grill might even be a healthier option for some meat eaters.


Enjoy the summer with some delicious and ecologically correct grilling!


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