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The double infinitive in German

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What is the double infinitive and how do you form it in German?

When in German you find two infinitive verbs in the same sentence, the sentence contains of a double infinitive.

The double infinity is used with certain verbs, especially with modal verbs, when these are conjugated to compound times (Perfekt, Plusquamperfekt) or to Futur I. Let's see in the following chapters how you should use the double infinitive in different situations.

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Verbs introducing the double infinitive

The double infinitive is used in combination with the following verbs. Keep in mind, that when there are three verbs in the sentence, only one of them is conjugated.

VerbExampleTranslation

With modal verbs:

  • können
  • dürfen
  • wollen
  • mögen
  • sollen
  • müssen
  • Ich habe dieses Buch lesen müssen.
  • Wir werden ein neues Handy kaufen müssen.
  • Er wird es nicht einsehen wollen.
  • I had to read this book.
  • We will have to buy a new mobile.
  • He will not want to understand it.

With verbs that do not hold the infinitive with zu:

  • hören
  • sehen
  • bleiben
  • fühlen
  • Ich habe sie schreien hören.
  • Wir haben sie Volleyball spielen sehen.
  • Wir haben ihn essen sehen.
  • I heard her screaming.
  • We saw them playing volleyball.
  • We saw him eating.

With other verbs such as:

  • lassen
  • helfen
  • brauchen
  • Ich habe meine Nägel machen lassen.
  • Sie haben ihm nicht helfen brauchen.
  • I had my nails been made.
  • They did not need to help him.

With verbs of motion (which don't hold an infinitive with 'zu'):

  • gehen
  • fahren
  • kommen
  • Wir haben etwas essen gehen wollen.
  • Wir haben in die Berge fahren können.
  • We wanted to go eating something.
  • We could have gone to the mountains.

 

The double infinitive with the past participle

The verbs you can find in the table above, can be used alone or in a verb group. But with the past participle, we always use the double infinitive.

The double infinitive is therefore always used with a past form of a modal verb. See some examples in the table below:

VerbExample with double infinitiveExample without double infinitiveTranslation
müssenIch habe den Wagen reparieren müssen.Ich musste den Wagen reparieren.I had to fix the car.
wollenWir haben ihr helfen wollen.Wir wollten ihr helfen.We had wanted to help her - We wanted to help her.
könnenIch habe ihn nicht treffen können.Ich konnte ihn nicht treffen.I couldn't meet him.
sehenWir haben ihn fallen sehen.Wir sahen ihn fallen.We had seen him falling. - We saw him falling.
lassenDu hast dir die Haare schneiden lassen.Du ließt dir die Haare schneiden.You got your hair cut.

 

The double infinitive with Futur I

It is the same thing, when we use the Futur I. With the simple Futur I you have to use the double infinitive at the end. In the table below, you will have some examples.

ExampleTranslation
Die Frau wird ihren Mann schnarchen hören.The women will hear her husband snore.
Er wird nicht spielen können.He won't be able to play.
Ihr werdet etwas kaufen müssen.You will have to buy something.

 

The position of the double infinitive in the sentence

Since the position of the verbs change, according to whether they are in the main or in the subordinate clause, we will have a look at both cases in the following chapters.

Double infinitive in the main clause

In the main sentence, the double infinity is at the end of the sentence, while the auxiliary is always in second position (not necessarily after the subject).

ExampleTranslation
Wir haben das Auftragsformular ausfüllen müssen.We had to fill in the order sheet.
Gestern haben wir das Kind weinen hören.Yesterday, we heard the child crying.
Wir werden Lena den Schlüssel suchen helfen.We will help Lena to find her key.

 

Double infinitive in the subordinate clause

In the secondary (subordinate) sentence the double infinity is always placed at the end of the sentence, while the conjugated auxiliary is in front of the double infinity (at the third last place).

enlightenedBe careful: Usually the conjugated auxiliary in subordinates is in the last position. In this type of proposition it is in the third last place.

ExampleTranslation
Sie behaupten, dass sie es nicht haben machen können.They claim, that they couldn't have done it.
Wir wissen nicht, ob er in die Schweiz hat fahren müssen.We don't know, if we had to go to Swiss.
Er hat gesagt, dass er das Kind nicht hat weinen hören.He said, that he did not hear the child crying.

 


Exercises

  1. Multiple-Choice exercise on double infinitive
  2. Present perfect or double infinitive?

Multiple-Choice exercise on double infinitive


Present perfect or double infinitive?


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