6. Question Words as Relative Pronouns

Just as in English, question words such as wo, was, and wie sometimes function as unspecific relative pronouns, and in this case they do not signal a question. Recognize how word order signals to you that this is a relative clause and not a question:

Sie ist sich unsicher, was sie bestellen wird.
She is not sure what she will order.

Ich weiß, wo Franz Kafka geboren ist.
I know where Franz Kafka was born.

These express a less specific kind of relationship between the two phrases than a relative pronoun does. Compare the second example above with:

Ich sah das Haus, in dem Franz Kafka geboren ist.
I saw the house in which Franz Kafka was born.

A famous example of this kind of question-word usage is in the first line of a Goethe poem: Kennst du das Land, wo die Zitronen blühn, …

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Last revised on October 6, 2014.