Handout: Infinitivsätze

You have probably noticed that in many German sentences, infinitives appear with a "zu" before them. These "zu + infinitive" structures are called infinitive clauses, and they're quite common -- and luckily fairly easy. We have infinitive clauses in English, too. For example:

Sie hat keine Zeit zu lesenShe has no time to read.   
Er hat vergessen, seine Hausaufgaben zu machenHe forgot to do his homework.   

The one possible confusion between German and English arises because in English, we use a 'to' with some modal verbs, but German does not. Remember that when using a modal verb in German, you simply place the infinitive verb at the end of the clause; in English we sometimes (with certain constructions) add a 'to'.

Er will tanzen. (no zu) He wants to dance.   
Er muss nach Hause gehenHe has to go home (or: He must go home.)   

The difference between modal verb constructions and infinitive clauses is that modal verbs function as helping verbs, whereas in infinitive clauses, there are two main verbs which exist independently of each other. For clarification: with modal verbs, you cannot remove the infinitive and still have a complete sentence. ('He wants' is not a complete sentence; it needs the full infinitive, 'He wants to dance.') With infinitive clauses we have two separate complete thoughts ('She has no time. She doesn't read.' - 'She has no time to read.')

Infinitive clauses can provide additional information, or they can substitute for a subject or an object in a sentence. If your infinitive clause has a direct or indirect object make sure to put it in its appropriate case:

Das ist leicht zu verstehen. [more information, no objects]   
Es macht mir viel Spaß, mit dir zu tanzen. [object of prepositional phrase]   
Ich habe Lust, diesen Film zu sehen. [direct object]   
Es ist schwer, ihm zu helfen. [dative verb object]   
Ich habe vor, meiner Schwester den Hut zu geben. [direct object/indirect object]   

Note on comma placement: In German, you usually add a comma when there are any elements other than just the "zu + infinitive". Under the new spelling rules, the comma is completely optional, but it still is used frequently in long clauses.

Infinitive clauses often appear with common phrases, such as:

Es macht Spaß ... It's fun to ...   
Es ist leicht/schwer ... It's easy/hard to ...   
Ich habe Lust ... I want to / I feel like ...   

With separable prefix verbs, everything gets put together into one word: prefix+zu+verb:

Ich darf nicht vergessen, meine Mutter anzurufenI mustn't forget to call my mother.   

Üben wir! Schreiben Sie die folgenden Sätze zu Ende. Benutzen Sie "zu" in jedem Satz.

1.Es macht Spaß, ________________________________________________________________________________.
2.Es ist schön, ___________________________________________________________________________________.
3.Ich habe Lust, _________________________________________________________________________________.
4.Ich finde es schwer, ____________________________________________________________________________.
5.Es ist Zeit, ____________________________________________________________________________________.

In addition to simple infinitives, there are three other ways to use 'zu' in a subordinate clause. In English, we don't always use 'to' for these constructions, but German does. Fortunately, they're easy to learn and use:

um ... zu = in order to

This construction is used FAR more often in German than in English. In English, we sometimes leave out the "in order" part, and use a plain 'to'. But anytime "in order to" works in English, you MUST use it in German.

Sie lernt viel, um gute Noten zu bekommenShe studies a lot (in order) to get good grades.   
Ich muss Geld verdienen, um für meine I have to earn money in order to take care   
     Familie zu sorgenof my family.   

ohne . . . zu = without doing

This is self-explanatory; the only thing to note is that in English, we use an -ing verb, where German uses a zu + infinitive.

Er ist weggegangen, ohne ein Wort zu sagenHe left without saying a word.   

statt ... zu = instead of doing

Like the above, English uses an -ing verb. You will sometimes see "anstatt ... zu" instead of the slightly less formal "statt ... zu"; they mean exactly the same thing.

Wir werden sie anrufen, anstatt ihr einen We'll call her instead of writing her   
     Brief zu schreibena letter.   

Note on word order: If you put the infinitive phrase at the beginning of the sentence, it's just like any other subordinate clause: you put a comma between it and the main clause of your sentence, and the verb of the second clause moves to the front:

Um diesen Wagen zu kaufen, musste ich In order to buy this car, I had to save   
     viel Geld sparen. a lot of money.   

Üben wir! Benutzen Sie "um. . .zu", "(an)statt. . .zu" oder "ohne. . . zu" in den folgenden Sätzen.

1.Ich lerne jeden Abend, _________________________________________________________________________.
2.Er bleibt heute zu Hause, _______________________________________________________________________.
3.Ich gehe durch den Park, ________________________________________________________________________.
4.Er macht jeden Tag Sport, _______________________________________________________________________.
5.Mutter geht ins Kino, ___________________________________________________________________________.
6.Er findet einen guten Job, _______________________________________________________________________.
7.Die Frau geht zur Bank, _________________________________________________________________________.