The infinitive in German (um…zu, ohne… zu)
- 1.What is the infinitive?
- 2.Infinitive sentences with 'zu' in German
- 2.1.The structure with 'um ... zu'
- 2.1.1.Infinitive sentence with 'damit'
- 2.2.The structure with 'ohne ... zu'
- 2.3.The structure with 'anstatt .. zu'
- 2.4.The structure with 'als ... zu'
- 2.5.Table of main verbs introducing the infinitive
- 2.6.Table of expressions introducing infinitive sentences
- 2.7.How to form infinitive sentences in an alternative way
- 3.The infinitive group without the preposition 'zu'
- 4.Particularities and deepening
- 4.1.With separable verbs
- 4.2.With reflexive verbs
- 5.Infinitive sentence or construction with 'dass'?
- 6.Change of meaning with or without 'zu' in German
- 7.1.Fill in the blanks exercise for infinitive sentences with 'zu'
- 7.2.Fill in the blanks exercise for infinitive sentences with and without 'zu'
- 7.3.Multiple choice exercise for infinitive sentences
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.
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'||Examples||Translation|
With a prepostition:
|In combination with declarative sentences|
|Within some typical sentences (haben + noun)|
|In combination with a reflexive verb|
|In combination with an adjective|
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'.
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.
- 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.)
When 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.
|anfangen||Klara fängt an, den Dachboden aufzuräumen.||Klara starts cleaning up the attic.|
|aufhören||Hör endlich auf, den anderen die Schuld zu geben.||Finally stop blaming the others.|
|beabsichtigen||Wir beabsichtigen, nächstes Jahr den Kölner Dom zu besichtigen.||We plan to visit the dome of Cologne next year.|
|beginnen||Die Bären beginnen, sich auf den Winterschlaf vorzubereiten.||The bears start preparing theirselves for the hibernation.|
|sich bemühen||Er bemüht sich, auch im größten Stress gelassen zu bleiben.||He struggles to stay calm even if he's in full stress.|
|beschließen||Julia hat beschlossen, ein Semester im Ausland zu verbringen.||Julia decided, to stay abroad for one semester.|
|bitten||Die Kursleiterin bittet die Studierenden, während der Prüfung nicht zu sprechen.||The teacher begs her students not to talk during the exam.|
|erlauben||Hast 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 erinnern||Ich habe mich daran erinnert, dir zum Geburtstag zu gratulieren.||I remembered myself to wish you a happy birthday.|
|sich entschließen||Er entschließt sich, das Studium abzubrechen.||He decides to break up his studies.|
|glauben||Glaubt ihr wirklich, eines Tages steinreich zu werden?||Do you really believe to be rich one day?|
|helfen||Ich helfe dir gleich, die Wäsche aufzuhängen.||In a minute I will help you to peg out your washing.|
|hoffen||Die Katze hofft, den Schmetterling zu fangen.||The cat hopes to catch the butterfly.|
|planen||Ich habe geplant, ein Erasmussemester in Spanien zu machen.||I have planned to do an Erasmus semester in Spain.|
|scheinen||Er scheint, kein einziges Wort verstanden zu haben.||It seems like he didn't even understand a single word.|
|verbieten||In 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.|
|vergessen||Sie hat vergessen, Sekt für die Geburtstagsfeier einzukaufen.||She forgot to buy sparkling wine for the birthday party.|
|versprechen||Markus versprach Anna, ihr für immer treu zu bleiben.||Markus promised Anna, to remain faithful to her forever.|
|versuchen||Er hat versucht, das Problem zu lösen.||He tried to solve the problem.|
|vorhaben||Hast du vor, nach Australien auszuwandern?||Are you planning to emigrate to Australia?|
|vorwarnen||Ernährungsexperten warnen davor, zu viel Zucker zu essen.||Nutrition experts warn about eating to much sugar.|
|sich weigern||Karl 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.
|die Absicht haben||Ich habe die Absicht, nächstes Jahr in den Urlaub zu fahren.||I have the intention, to go on vacation next year.|
|in Betracht ziehen||WIr müssen in Betracht ziehen, in eine neue Wohnung zu ziehen.||We have to take into account to move to a new flat.|
|eine Entscheidung treffen||Wir haben die Entscheidung getroffen, diese Wohnung zu kaufen.||We made the decision, to buy this flat.|
|die Hoffnung haben||Sie haben die Hoffnung, den Hund zu finden.||They have the hope to find the dog.|
|die Neigung haben||Ich habe die Neigung, zu stottern, wenn ich nervös bin.||I tend to stutter, when I'm nervous.|
|ein Versprechen geben||Ich 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.
In combination with modal verbs:
With verbs that describe perceptions or conditions:
With verbs of movement:
|With the verb lassen|
|With the verb lernen|
|With the verb bleiben (in the meaning of not changing the situation)|
|With the verbs finden and haben (In combination with expressions of place)|
|For making commands (Like in imperative)|
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.
|ein-schlafen||Ich versuche, einzuschlafen.||I try to fall asleep.|
|an-rufen||Ich verspreche dir, dich anzurufen.||I promise you, to call you.|
|an-fangen||Ich 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.
|vorbei-kommen||Ich kann heute vorbeikommen.||I can come by today.|
|auf-stehen||Ich 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.
|sich vorbereiten||Er versucht, sich auf die Prüfung vorzubereiten.||He tries to prepare for the exam.|
|sich entschuldigen||Ich muss mich entschuldigen.||I have to apologize.|
|sich waschen||Es ist wichtig, sich richtig zu waschen.||It is important, to wash properly.|
As 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.
- 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
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
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