Infinitive + Zu

What are Infinitive Phrases?

Infinitive phrases contain a verb in infinitive form (not conjugated) along with the word "zu"  ⇒ infinitive with zu.

Infinitive phrases are subordinate clauses and don't have their own subject. Instead, they use the subject from the main clause.

How to Use Infinitive + Zu

We use infinitive + zu when the verb in the main clause is directly related to the verb in the subordinate clause and the subject of the subordinate clause is obvious.

  • „Ich versuche, das Tor zu treffen.“

"Versuchen" is directly related to "treffen." I will "try" to score. Also, it's clear that we are talking about me scoring.

When Do We Use Infinitive + Zu?

After specific verbs:

  • „Ich schlage vor, heute Abend ins Kino zu gehen.
    ⇒ Ich schlage eine Handlung vor: "gehen" ⇒ zu + infinitive

You could also express it with a dass-clause:

  • „Ich schlage vor, dass wir heute Abend ins Kino gehen.“

We can only use infinitive + zu when the subject in the subordinate clause isn't important or it's obvious from the context.

When the subject has to be mentioned, we can‘t use infinitive + zu:

  • Ich hoffe, dass er bald perfekt Deutsch spricht.“
  • Ich hoffe, dass ich bald perfekt Deutsch spreche.“

Because there is no subject in an infinitive phrase, it only works when the subject in the infinitive clause is identical to the subject, the accusative object, or the dative object in the main clause.

  • Ich hoffe, bald perfekt Deutsch zu sprechen.“

If I want to express that somebody else will speak perfect German soon, I can not use zu + infinitive. The subject is not the same, and in this case it isn’t obvious either.

Examples with identical accusative or dative objects:

The accusative object is identical to the subject in the subordinate clause:

  • dass: Der Kellner bittet den Mann, dass er draußen raucht.
  • inf.: Der Kellner bittet den Mann, draußen zu rauchen.

The dative object is identical to the subject in the subordinate clause:

  • dass: Der Kellner verbietet dem Mann, dass er im Restaurant raucht.
  • inf.: Der Kellner verbietet dem Mann, im Restaurant zu rauchen.
Merke dir

Remember:

If the subject of the subordinate clause isn't in the main clause, you cannot use zu + infinitive.

If it is in the main clause and it's clear from the context, you can and SHOULD use zu + infinitive. Infinitive clauses usually sound better because they are shorter and less complicated.

Verbs that Use Infinitive + Zu

All verbs that have a dass-clause complement:

  • aufhören, stoppen, beginnen, anfangen, verbieten, vergessen, versprechen, versuchen, vorhaben, warnen vor, sich weigern.

    ⇒ As we talked about above, zu + infinitive can only replace the dass-clause when the subject is clear from the context.

All verbs that can be followed by a dass-clause:

  • glauben, denken, meinen, hoffen, wissen, entscheiden, scheinen,…

    Only when the subject is the same:
  • Ich hoffe, dass ich bald perfekt Deutsch spreche.“
  • Ich hoffe, bald perfekt Deutsch zu sprechen.“

    ⇒ Both are possible since the subject is the same.

  • Ich hoffe, dass du bald wieder zu Hause bist.“

    ⇒ Only the dass-clause is possible.

"Sein" / "finden" + adjective and "haben" + noun:

  • Ich habe Lust, mit dir ins Kino zu gehen.“
  • „Ich finde es schwierig, die Deutsche Sprache zu lernen.“
  • Es ist einfach, einen Job in Deutschland zu finden.“

If the subject in the second half of the sentence is obvious, use infinitive + zu. If not, use a dass-clause.

  • Ich finde es super, dir beim Deutsch lernen helfen zu können.“
  • Ich finde es super, dass ich dir beim Deutsch lernen helfen kann.“

In this case both are possible, because it's obvious that the subject is the same.


  • Ich finde es super, dass du mir beim Deutsch lernen hilfst.“

Here you have to use a dass-clause, since the subject is different in the two halves of the sentence.

Tipp

Tip:

Almost always true: haben/sein + adjective + infinitive + zu (dass-clause almost never possible) // finden + adjective (dass-clause usually possible)

Infinitive + Zu with Separable Verbs

With separable verbs, the "zu" comes between the prefix and the main part of the verb. It is all written together as one word.

Examples:

  • „Ich versuche, die Tür abzuschließen.“
  • „Ich schlage vor, morgen sehr früh aufzustehen.“
  • „Es ist schwierig, bei Lärm einzuschlafen.“

Verbs that don't use Infinitive + Zu

Some verbs require a second verb but DON'T use infinitive + zu. Instead, they use sentence brackets.

This includes: all modal verbs, "gehen," "fahren," "bleiben," "lassen," "sehen," and "hören."

Helping verbs "haben," "sein," and "werde"“ also don't use infinitive + zu (because they are used to create other tenses).

Examples

  • „Ich soll heute noch Hausaufgaben machen.“ (modal verb ⇒ no infinitive + zu)
  • „Ich gehe morgen mit meinem Bruder einkaufen.“ ("gehen" ⇒ no infinitive + zu)
  • „Ich lasse mein Auto in der Werkstatt reparieren.“  ("lassen" ⇒ no infinitive + zu)
  • „Ich werde morgen zum ersten Mal in die Schule gehen.“ (helping verb ⇒ no infinitive + zu)
  • „Ich sehe in der Nacht die Sterne am Himmel leuchten.“ ("sehen" ⇒ no infinitive + zu)

Word Order

Infinitive phrases are subordinate clauses, so the verb goes at the end.

  • „Ich fange morgen an,  Deutsch zu lernen.“

The infinitive phrase must come after the main clause. SC + MC isn't possible.

The infinitive phrase should be separated from the main clause with a comma, but it isn't a must.

Summary

  • Infinitive phrases are subordinate clauses.
  • Infinitive + zu is used when the verb is directly related to a second action (alternative: for some verbs a dass-clause is used).
  • This applies to all verbs except: modal verbs, gehen, fahren, bleiben, kommen, lassen, sehen, and hören.
  • Because there is no subject in an infinitive phrase, it only works when the subject in the dass-clause is obvious.
  • The separation between the two clauses with a comma is not obligatory but is recommended.

Related Topics:

There are also some infinitive constructions that also use the infintive form.

A general overview of subordinate clauses.

Everything about temporal clauses can be found in this lesson.

Additional subordinate conjunctions: "dass," "weil/da," "obwohl," damit," "wenn/falls," "indem," and "so dass."

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