Questions?

Check our FAQs for the quickest support.

FAQ

Did not find your answer?
Contact us

The infinitive in German (um…zu, ohne… zu)

Our teachers

Looking for a language tutor? Contact one of our teachers!

Find a teacher

What is the infinitive?

The basic form of a verb, which means the unconjugated form, is called infinitive. In German, there are some constructions of sentences, which always use the infinitive of a verb. This chapter will show you all the different constructions and how to use them in the correct way.

 

Have a question?

Take online language lessons with a professional teacher

  1. Native & verified teachers
  2. Free trial lesson
  3. Learning materials included

Infinitive sentences with 'zu' in German

The construction with 'zu + infinitive' is used quite often in German and can be tranlated into english like 'in order to' or just 'to'. For instance, this constructions is often used when a sentence consists of two verbs. There are alway two possibilities of constructing the sentence: with and without 'zu'.

  • Ich hoffe, ich kann die Prüfung schaffen. (I hope, I can pass the exam.)
  • Ich hoffe, die Prüfung zu schaffen. (I hope to pass the exam.)

Those constructions with 'zu' are always subordinate clauses without a direct object.

There are some typical ways to use 'zu' with an infinitive. See some examples in the table below.

Way to use 'zu'ExamplesTranslation

With a prepostition:

  • um .. zu infinitive
  • ohne .. zu + infinitive
  • (an)statt .. zu + infinitive
  • als .. zu + infinitive

 

  • Ich spare jeden Monat 50€, um mir ein neues Auto zu kaufen.
  • Sie ist ins Zimmer gekommen, ohne zu klopfen.
  • Wir hören Musik, anstatt zu lernen.
  • Ich fahre lieber ans Meer, als zuhause zu bleiben.
  • I save 50€ every month to buy a new car.
  • She came into the room without knocking.

  • We hear music instead of studying.
  • I rather go to the sea, instead of staying home.
In combination with declarative sentences
  • Es ist (nicht) erlaubt, hier zu rauchen.
  • Es ist (nicht) gesund, viel Sport zu machen.
  • Es ist schwer/leicht bis morgen alles zu lernen.
  • It is (not) allowed, to smoke here.
  • It is (not) healthy, to do much sport.
  • It is easy/difficult, to learn everything until tomorrow.
Within some typical sentences (haben + noun)
  • Ich habe keine Zeit, dir zu helfen.
  • Wir haben die Absicht, morgen ins Schwimmbad zu gehen.
  • Max hat den Wunsch, einen Erasmusaufenthalt in Berlin zu machen.
  • I don't have any time to help you.
  • We have the intention to go to the swimming pool tomorrow.
  • Max has the desire to stay in Berlin with Erasmus.
In combination with a reflexive verb
  • Ich kann mich nicht erinnern, den Rucksack gepackt zu haben.
  • Ich sehne mich danach, dich zu sehen.
  • I can not remember packing the backpack.
  • I long to see you.
In combination with an adjective
  • Ich bin überrascht, das zu hören.
  • Sie ist bemüht, ihre Aufgaben schnell zu erledigen.
  • I'm surprised hearing that.
  • She aims to finish her tasks soon.

 

In some rare cases, the subordinate clause with 'zu' can stand in the beginning of the sentence.

  • Ohne mich zu fragen, hat sie mein Handy geliehen. (Without asking me, she borrowed my mobile.)
  • Um die Prüfung zu bestehen, musst du dir Mühe geben! (To pass the exam, you have to take care of doing so.)

 

The structure with 'um ... zu'

The strucure with 'um .. zu' is used to express purposes or aims. With separable verbs, the zu preposition is interposed between the prefix and the stem of the verb. (e.g. aushalten (to stand) = auszuhalten.) The construction can usually be translated into English by 'in order to' or just 'to'.

For example:

  • Ich fahre nach Deutschland, um Deutsch zu lernen. (I go to Germany, in order to learn German.)

  • Wir stehen um 7 Uhr auf, um Sport zu treiben. (We wake up at seven, to do some sports.)

  • Er hört Musik, um sich abzulenken. (He hears music, to take his eyes off the ball.)

Infinitive sentence with 'damit'

To express an intention or purpose we can also use the construction with damit (so that). This preposition introduces an infinitive sentence but never holds the preposition 'zu'. The preposition 'zu' is missing, but the verb at the end is also in infinitive.

For example:

  • Ich fahre nach Deutschland, damit ich Deutsch lernen kann. (I go to Germany, so that I can learn German.
  • Wir stehen um 7 Uhr auf, damit wir Sport machen. (We wake up at seven, so that we can do some sports.)
  • Er hört Musik, damit er sich ablenken kann. (He hears music, so that he can take his eyes off the ball.)

When the subjects of the main sentence and the subordinate sentence are different, you can only use the construction with a 'damit':

  • Der Lehrer organisiert oft Gruppenarbeiten, damit die Schüler zusammenarbeiten können. (The teacher often organizes group work, so that the students can work together.)
  • Ich helfe meiner Mutter, damit sie ihre Freizeit mehr genießen kann. (I help my mother, so she can enjoy her free time more.)

enlightenedWhen you use two verbs in the subordinate sentence (like 'genießen kann'), the infinitive is the second last word in the sentence and is before the conjugated verb!

 

The structure with 'ohne ... zu'

Also the structure with 'ohne .. zu' introduces an infinitive sentence. In English, this structure is used as 'without + Gerundium'.

  • Man kann diese Aufgabe schaffen, ohne sich Mühe zu geben. (One can succeed this exercise, without taking trouble.)
  • Ich habe die Miete bezahlt, ohne den Vertrag zu unterschreiben. (I payed the rent, without signing the contract.)

The structure with 'anstatt .. zu'

To express something oppositional in German, you can use a sentence with '(an)statt ... zu' . It can be translated into English as 'instead of ..'. It is also used with the gerund after 'anstatt'.

  • Wir senden eine Email, anstatt einen Brief zu schreiben. (We send an e-mail, instead of writing a letter.)
  • Du isst Süßigkeiten, anstatt gesund zu essen. (You're eating sweets, instead of eating healthy.)
  • Statt zu arbeiten, spielen sie. (Instead of working, they play.)

​The structure with 'als ... zu'

The construction of 'als ... zu' is mainly used as 'anstatt ... zu' to express oppisitional actions. It can be translated as 'rather than'.

  • Es ist gesünder zu laufen, als mit dem Auto zu fahren. (It's healthier to go by food, rather than to go by car.)
  • Wir gehen lieber shoppen, als zu lernen. (We would rather go shopping, than studying.)

Table of main verbs introducing the infinitive

There are some verbs that are typically used in infinitive sentences. See the words and the examples below to get a further understanding of it. The infinitive will always be italicised.

VerbExampleTranslation
anfangenKlara fängt an, den Dachboden aufzuräumen.Klara starts cleaning up the attic.
aufhörenHör endlich auf, den anderen die Schuld zu geben.Finally stop blaming the others.
beabsichtigenWir beabsichtigen, nächstes Jahr den Kölner Dom zu besichtigen.We plan to visit the dome of Cologne next year.
beginnenDie Bären beginnen, sich auf den Winterschlaf vorzubereiten.The bears start preparing theirselves for the hibernation.
sich bemühenEr bemüht sich, auch im größten Stress gelassen zu bleiben.He struggles to stay calm even if he's in full stress.
beschließenJulia hat beschlossen, ein Semester im Ausland zu verbringen.Julia decided, to stay abroad for one semester.
bittenDie Kursleiterin bittet die Studierenden, während der Prüfung nicht zu sprechen.The teacher begs her students not to talk during the exam.
erlaubenHast du Tim erlaubt, alleine mit dem Hund spazieren zu gehen?Did you allow Tim to go for a walk with the dog on his own?
sich erinnernIch habe mich daran erinnert, dir zum Geburtstag zu gratulieren.I remembered myself to wish you a happy birthday.
sich entschließenEr entschließt sich, das Studium abzubrechen.He decides to break up his studies.
glaubenGlaubt ihr wirklich, eines Tages steinreich zu werden?Do you really believe to be rich one day?
helfenIch helfe dir gleich, die Wäsche aufzuhängen.In a minute I will help you to peg out your washing.
hoffenDie Katze hofft, den Schmetterling zu fangen.The cat hopes to catch the butterfly.
planenIch habe geplant, ein Erasmussemester in Spanien zu machenI have planned to do an Erasmus semester in Spain.
scheinenEr scheint, kein einziges Wort verstanden zu haben.It seems like he didn't even understand a single word.
verbietenIn diesem Park ist es verboten, Feuer zu machen und zu grillen.In this park it is forbidden to make a fire and to do a barbecue.
vergessenSie hat vergessen, Sekt für die Geburtstagsfeier einzukaufen.She forgot to buy sparkling wine for the birthday party.
versprechenMarkus versprach Anna, ihr für immer treu zu bleiben.Markus promised Anna, to remain faithful to her forever.
versuchenEr hat versucht, das Problem zu lösen.He tried to solve the problem.
vorhabenHast du vor, nach Australien auszuwandern?Are you planning to emigrate to Australia?
vorwarnenErnährungsexperten warnen davor, zu viel Zucker zu essen.Nutrition experts warn about eating to much sugar.
sich weigernKarl weigerte sich, die Suppe aufzuessen.Karl refused to eat up the soup.

 

Table of expressions introducing infinitive sentences

These are the main expressions used in German to introduce an indefinite sentence. Of yourse, there are more expressions, but these should help to give you an idea about it.

ExpressionExampleTranslation
die Absicht habenIch habe die Absicht, nächstes Jahr in den Urlaub zu fahren.I have the intention, to go on vacation next year.
in Betracht ziehenWIr müssen in Betracht ziehen, in eine neue Wohnung zu ziehen.We have to take into account to move to a new flat.
eine Entscheidung treffenWir haben die Entscheidung getroffen, diese Wohnung zu kaufen.We made the decision, to buy this flat.
die Hoffnung habenSie haben die Hoffnung, den Hund zu finden.They have the hope to find the dog.
die Neigung habenIch habe die Neigung, zu stottern, wenn ich nervös bin.I tend to stutter, when I'm nervous.
ein Versprechen gebenIch gebe dir das Versprechen, die Wohnung zu putzen.I promise to clean the flat.

 

How to form infinitive sentences in an alternative way

In German, it is also possible, to transform a noun into a verb and then use it in combination with the preposition 'zu'. See some examples below. Therefore, there are two different options, to use an infinitive sentence.

Infinitive sentence without 'zu'Infinitive sentence with 'zu'
Zum Schutz vor dem Regen, hat sie einen Regenschirm benutzt. (As a protection against the storm, she used an umbrella.)Sie hat einen Regenschirm benutzt, um sich vor dem Regen zu schützen. (She used an umbrella, to protect herself from the rain.)
Zur Entspannung hört er gute Musik. (For relaxion, he listens to good music.)Er hört gute Musik, um sich zu entspannen. (He listens to good music, to relax.)
Zum Lesen braucht man gutes Licht. (For reading, you need good light.)Man braucht gutes Licht, um zu lesen. (You need good light, to read.)

 

The infinitive group without the preposition 'zu'

There are also certain situations, where the verb is not preceeded by the preposition 'zu', but nevertheless is in infinitive. This is the case, if there exist two verbs in the sentence. In the table below you can find the situations and some examples.

SituationExampleTranslation

In combination with modal verbs:

  • können
  • dürfen
  • sollen
  • wollen
  • müssen
  • mögen

+ wissen

  • Ich kann es machen.
  • Wir möchten das Museum besuchen.
  • Ich mag lesen.
  • I can do it.
  • We want to visit the museum.
  • I like reading.

With verbs that describe perceptions or conditions:

  • fühlen
  • sehen
  • hören
  • bleiben
  • Er hört sie kommen.
  • Ich bleibe stehen.
  • Ich höre ihn singen.
  • He hears her coming.
  • I stand still.
  • I hear him singing.

With verbs of movement:

  • kommen
  • gehen
  • fahren
  • Er geht seinen Bruder abholen.
  • Sie kommen mich besuchen.
  • He goes to pick up his brother.
  • They come to visit me.
With the verb lassen
  • Die Spinne lässt sich nicht verjagen.
  • Ich lasse mir die Haare schneiden.
  • The spider can not be chased away.
  • I'm going to the barber to cut my hair
With the verb lernen
  • Sie lernt reiten.
  • Das Kind lernt Fahrrad fahren.
  • She learns how to ride.
  • The child learns how to ride a bike.
With the verb bleiben (in the meaning of not changing the situation)
  • Die Spinne bleibt auf der Fensterbank sitzen.
  • The spider keeps siting on the window sill.
With the verbs finden and haben (In combination with expressions of place)
  • Ich finde, wir sollten zuhause bleiben.
  • I think we should stay home.
For making commands (Like in imperative)
  • Du musst ruhig bleiben.
  • Nicht weglaufen!
  • You have to keep calm.
  • Don't run away!

 

Particularities and deepening

There are some peculiarities regarding the construction of infinite sentences. You will find them in the following chapters.

With separable verbs

The first particularity is with seperable verbs, which means, that the verb consists of one verb stem and a prefix infront of the verb (e.g. ab-reisen, an-fertigen). All of this verbs can also stand alone, without the prefix. In this case, the preposition 'zu' comes between the prefix and the infinitive of the verb.

Seperable verbExampleTranslation
ein-schlafenIch versuche, einzuschlafen.I try to fall asleep.
an-rufenIch verspreche dir, dich anzurufen.I promise you, to call you.
an-fangenIch bin nicht bereit, an fangen.I'm not ready to start.

 

In situations where the infinitive is not preceded by the preposition 'zu' (see above), the infinitive of separable verbs remains unchanged, like in the examples in the table below.

Seperable verbExampleTranslation
vorbei-kommenIch kann heute vorbeikommen.I can come by today.
auf-stehenIch werde um 8 Uhr aufstehen.I will get up at 8 o'clock.

 

With reflexive verbs

Reflexive verbs are for example verbs like 'sich vorstellen' (to introduce yourself). In the infinitive group, the reflexive pronoun is placed before the infinitive, whether it is introduced by 'zu' or not. Usually the reflexive pronoun is immediately after the comma, separating the main sentence from the subordinate sentence.

Reflexive verbExampleTranslation
sich vorbereitenEr versucht, sich auf die Prüfung vorzubereitenHe tries to prepare for the exam.
sich entschuldigenIch muss mich entschuldigen.I have to apologize.
sich waschenEs ist wichtig, sich richtig zu waschen. It is important, to wash properly.

 

enlightenedAs you can see, the other rules you learned above, also work with reflexive verbs. In the first example we have a seperable verbs, which is why the preposition 'zu' is between the prefix and the normal verb stem (see above).

 

Infinitive sentence or construction with 'dass'?

We can choose to express the concept either with the infinitive sentence (with 'zu') or use the subordinate phrase introduced by 'dass' (without the zu). The meaning is unchanged, but in the 'dass'-phrase, we usually don't have an infinitive form of a verb.

  • Ich hoffe, dass ich mein Studium bald abschließe. (I hope, that I finish my studies soon.)
  • Ich hoffe, mein Studium bald abzuschließen. (I hope to finish my studies soon.)
  • Luca freut sich darüber, dass er morgen Besuch bekommt. (Luca is pleased, that he has visitors tomorrow.)
  • Luca freut sich darüber, morgen Besuch zu bekommen. (Luca is pleased to have visitors tomorrow.)

Infinitive sentences with 'zu' can only be used if the subjects (of the main and subordinate sentences) are identical. Otherwise the construction with 'dass' is used:

  • Luca freut sich darüber, morgen Besuch zu bekommen. (Where Luca is the subject in the main and in the subordinate phrase)

  • Luca freut sich darüber, dass er morgen Besuch bekommt. (Where Luca is the subject of the main sentence, but 'der Besuch' is the subject of the subordinate sentence.)

Other examples are:

  • Luca hofft, dass Peter sein Studium bald abschließt. (Luca hopes, that Peter finishes his studies soon.)
  • Sie freut sich darüber, dass ihre Schwester sie morgen besucht. (She is pleased that her sister will visit her tomorrow.)

 

Change of meaning with or without 'zu' in German

There are verbs that can introduce infinitive groups with or without the preposition 'zu'. Depending on the use they change their meaning, so keep attention to this.

VerbExampleTranslation
haben
  • Ich habe einen Hund.
  • Ich habe zu lernen.
  • I have a dog.
  • I have to learn.
sein
  • Du bist mein Freund.
  • Diese Aufgaben sind zu machen.
  • You are my friend.
  • It's possible to do this exercise.
scheinen
  • Die Sonne scheint.
  • Er scheint zu weinen.
  • The sun is shining.
  • It seems like he is crying.
brauchen
  • Ich brauche eine Brille.
  • Du brauchst keine Angst zu haben.
  • I need glasses.
  • You don't have to be afraid.

 


Exercises

  1. Fill in the blanks exercise for infinitive sentences with 'zu'
  2. Fill in the blanks exercise for infinitive sentences with and without 'zu'
  3. Multiple choice exercise for infinitive sentences

Fill in the blanks exercise for infinitive sentences with 'zu'


Fill in the blanks exercise for infinitive sentences with and without 'zu'


Multiple choice exercise for infinitive sentences


What our students say

Unlike in other platforms, all our teachers are manually verified by our professional team. Trust in the experiences of our students.
4.96/5
Hands down one of the best teachers I've had the pleasure of working with. Very knowledgeable in all aspects of Bulgarian (grammar rules, expressions, ...) but also in both English and French, which helps whenever you have a more in-depth question on the how or why something is the way it is in Bulgarian. Furthermore he has his own material and always comes prepared, but he is equally open to changing the subject of a lesson to suit your needs. He is patient, positive and not too scholarly, which is what you need as an adult learning day- to- day Bulgarian.I have been working with him for 18 months now and still look forward to our lessons every week.
An's Bulgarian has tremendously improved since she gave it go a year and a half ago. Of course, It goes without saying that I am pleased to work with such an enthusiastic learner who is living proof that, through hard work and perseverance, everyone can succeed in their language goals. An, you are now an independant user of the language who is able to successfully lead real-live conversations. Pat yourself on the back.
5/5
Elena is an excellent teacher and a very nice person. I have been training in Spanish with Elena for quite some time now after her being recommended to me by a friend, and have consistently been very pleased with our lessons. While I do not consider myself to be very good at learning foreign languages, Elena is very patient and adapts the lessons to my ability, making me feel at ease. In fact, I find her to be extremely skilled at assessing exactly where I am at any given time with respect to my individual learning situation, and structuring the lessons accordingly. I think I probably would have given up trying to learn Spanish had I not began my study with Elena; and that would have been a shame considering where I am now with the language. Because of Elena's skilled help, I am extremely pleased to not only be conversant in basic Spanish, but also have confidence that I will one day reach full proficiency with the language. No other learning method I tried before meeting Elena compares to the one-on-one, personalized instruction I receive from her, which comprises reading; writing; developmental exercises; and most importantly, conversation. To be able to look at Spanish now and have it appear largely familiar is extremely satisfying. I even plan to study Italian with Elena after reaching my desired level in Spanish. These are not things I ever imagined would occur at the beginning stages of my studies. I am a native English speaker and find Elena's English to be excellent. She had no difficulty instructing me from the very beginning levels where it was necessary that a lot of English be spoken in our lessons, to where we are now with much less English being spoken. The friend who recommended Elena to me learned Dutch from her, and is equally pleased with their experience. I would not hesitate to learn from Elena any of the languages she teaches. I give Elena my highest recommendations and thank her for all the help she has provided me.
Thank you for your feedback, Brandon! I am very happy to know that you are so satisfied with the lessons. I've always believed that you could make it and I am glad that we never gave it up. The right attitude and a high level of perseverance have been the keys to your success. It has been a pleasure to be your guide in your learning process. I know that you can do much more, so let's continue towards a next level!
5/5
Again a lesson full of fun anf full of learning opportunities. I really like Angels patience and ability to adapt to my learning process.
This student is one of the best ones I ever had in my long teaching career. She is always so diligent and willing to learn more and more. I am so happy to work with her and see the immense progress she has made since we first started working together. Thank you Silke!
5/5
I would highly recommend Tove. Her lessons are fantastic and I learn exactly what I'm interested in. Tove is very friendly, our chemistry goes well together and I really enjoy being tought by her.
Dear Anita, Thank you very much for your nice review! I enjoy our lessons very much too and I am so happy that our communication and chemistry fit well together. That's the best precondition for a good learning experience. See you soon!
5/5
We are an Italian family residing in France for 3 months, we have two 10 year old children who have just started attending CM1. We asked Natalia to give the children two lessons a week to speed up their learning. We are super happy with the choice. Nous sommes une famille italienne résidant en France depuis janvier, nous avons deux enfants de 10 ans qui viennent de commencer la CM1. Nous avons demandé à Natalia de leur donner deux leçons par semaine pour accélérer leur apprentissage. Nous sommes super contents de Natalia. We are an Italian family living in France since 3 months, we have two 10 year old children who have just started attending CM1. We asked Natalia to give the kids two lessons a week to speed up their learning. We are super happy with this choice.
Translated by Google Translate
Fabrizio's children are learning French very fast, I have the impression that these lessons online have been helpful for them and I am sure they will master the language easily. They are very interested in learning.
5/5
Daniela is a very pleasant and brisk teacher who has the talent to make you feel at ease immediately. Her lessons are a nice mix of conversation and theory. Again and again it is a nice hour to look forward to !! Thank you Daniela !!
Translated by Google Translate
Dear Hilde, thank you very much for your words. I'm glad you are satisfied with our time together. I will continue to do my best to make you practice your beautiful Italian in a cheerful and peaceful way :-)
Translated by Google Translate
5/5
It is always a pleasure to have English lessons with Corinne. The lessons are always a lot of fun and extremely interesting concerning on current affairs and unfortunately the time always ends too early. Very recommended.
Thank you, Danilo. It is always a pleasure having lessons with you and I have enjoyed our many conversations together. And what a joy that over time they have become easier for both of us to understand! :D
5/5
Carmen is really prepared and very very nice. She takes you by the hand and introduces you to portuguese language in a really pleasant way. I learned 3-4 sentences already on the first lesson!
Fabia is a very nice student and learns very quickly. It is a pleasure to teach her as she really likes to learn a difficult language like Portuguese and improved a lot.
5/5
It was very nice to take a lesson from Theano (Anny). She is adaptable to the student's level and is prepared to help the student as necessary. She is a friendly and caring teacher!
Σ' ευχαριστώ πολύ Μέγκαν! I'm glad you had a good experience and that you enjoyed it. Your excitment about learning greek motivates me even more :)
5/5
Marissa is a very professional teacher who can put the student at ease. It is precise, effective and oriented towards achieving the objectives: highly recommended.
Translated by Google Translate
Thanks so much Paola!!! I LOVE working with you guys and have enjoyed every moment. Even after this brief period, we can already start to see some changes. :-)
5/5
I have had many lessons with Luisa and I always look forward to them. We begin by chatting about the past week's events and them move to Espresso which I find very useful as a good review of material I have done in the past. There is often additional words used I had not met before. Luisa is always a pleasure to talk with and is a kind and pleasant teacher. She corrects me gently and offers useful words or meanings when appropriate.
Dear Martin thank you so much ! It's my pleasure taking class with you. And thanks a lot for your suggestion about Us movies ( Just Mercy) or Us books
5/5
I had my first lesson a couple of days ago and everything went super good! Karin was attentive, transmiting her positivism and helping me with every doubt I had. She really focus on teaching how to pronounce and talk a language, so this is really interesting for me, to practise it & be able to use it in my day by day. I really recommend her to everyone willing to learn a new language :)
Hi Alba! Thank you so much for your wonderful review! I enjoyed our class too & I wish you the best of luck with all your future projects :-)
5/5
A prepared and kind teacher, ready to teach with patience and good humor. He provided me with very useful materials to study and review even after the lesson. I recommend it to anyone who wants to learn a language with a smile. Thanks Silvia :)
Translated by Google Translate
Thank you so much for the Chiara review! It was a real pleasure to have this lesson with you. I wish you a nice trip with the German language!
Translated by Google Translate
5/5
The lesson with Celia was perfect! She was puntcual, kind and her teaching method is effective and funny. She started the class with some "games" to get to know eachother and then we discussed about an article she provided. The time of the class passed really fast and I learned new vocabulary. Absolutely raccomended.
Thank you so much, Remark! I´m happy to know you enjoyed our lesson and I´m looking forward to having more in the near future! Cheers!
5/5
Ekaterina writes new words and sentences learnt during the lesson. She has got a very nice attitude and great accent! A pleasure to work with... yes, even in German!!!!!
Dear Silvia, thank you very much for your feedback! It's a real pleasure to have classes with you, and I hope you find them useful!
5/5