Sentences with zu in German

Last Updated on May 2, 2024

Sentences with zu or German infinitive clauses with zu are very common and difficult to avoid, so the sooner you master them, the better. They either complement the meaning of the main verb or have a purpose meaning.

Modal verbs in German
Verbs with prepositions in German. Preposition um and preposition über
Past tense in German. Perfect and preterite
SS or ß in German
Negation in German
Separable verbs in German
Reach an agreement: vereinbaren vs verabreden, ausmachen etc.
Description of a person’s appearance in German. 3. How to avoid repetition in essay
Difference between enden and beenden, abschließen, aufhören and other synonyms

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Exercises for the topic Sentences with zu

Sentences with zu + infinitive, clarifying the meaning of the main verb

Let’s start with a simple infinitive clauses with zu. It will be verb + zu + the infinitive (initial form of the verb). The infinitive depends on the main verb and has the meaning of an addition:
I plan (what?) to take the exam,
I dream of (of what?) going on vacation,
I’m afraid of (of what?) missing the train…

To master sentences with zu, you need:
– remember verbs with which zu is not used
– also recognize separable prefixes

Actually, German infinitive clauses with zu are subordinate clauses with the removed conjunction and subject. In this case a conjunction dass is reduced. Therefore, they are often separated by a comma, and they are possible when the subordinate clause with dass is possible.

Ich plane, dass ich nach Italien reise.
Ich plane, nach Italien zu reisen

Separable prefixes add complexity: zu must be placed between the prefix and the root, and for this you need to remember which prefixes are separable.

Separable verbs in German

Ich hoffe, um 10 Uhr anzukommen.

To deepen to level B2. If the action in a construction with zu occurred before the action of the main verb, Parizip II + zu haben is used and the construction looks like this:

Ich glaube, die Aufgaben gemacht zu haben. (I believe now that I have already done the tasks earlier)

When constructions with zu are not used

Verbs that do not need zu are verbs whose meaning would be incomplete without the infinitive. For example, I can. Without context or an infinitive, it is absolutely unclear what exactly I can do. Can (kann) and other modal verbs have an infinitive without zu. But, besides modal verbs, there are other groups and they are a little more difficult to remember.

1. With modal verbs and lassen

Ich kann schwimmen.
Ich möchte reisen.
Er soll mehr schlafen.
Sie musste dringend nach Hause fahren.
Ich lasse mir Haare schneiden.

2. With motion verbs (bleiben, gehen, fahren, kommen).

Wir fahren heute schwimmen.
Ich gehe einkaufen.
Er bleibt stehen.
Meine Mutter kommt mir abholen.

3. With verbs of perception. Sehen, hören are usually mentioned, but I have also come across other verbs, for example fühlen, riechen, spüren, bemerken, schmecken. True, with these other verbs you have to try very hard to come up with examples.

Im Gegensatz zu früheren Beispielen, bei denen das Handeln von einer Person ausgeführt wurde (eine Person kann und schwimmt), gibt es hier zwei Akteure: einer sieht, der andere tut.

Ich sehe meinen Vater kommen.
Ich höre Vögel singen.

These verbs have one more feature – the formation of a perfect with two infinitives:

Ich habe meinen Vater kommen sehen.
Ich habe Vögel singen hören.

4. With verbs helfen, lehren, lernen.

Ich lerne Schach spielen.
Ich lehre meine Tochter tanzen.
Er hilft seiner Frau aufräumen.

Wenn you need infinitive clause with zu

1. With other verbs that do not belong to the groups described above. As a rule, these are verbs of thought, prohibition, permission, requests, intentions, beginning and end, attempts (the list, of course, is incomplete):

plannen, wünschen, hoffen, entscheiden sich, erwarten, freuen sich
versuchen, bemühen sich, gelingen
anfangen, beginnen, aufhören
bitten, versprechen, drohen
wissen, denken, meinen, vergessen, erinnern, glauben

Ich freue mich, dich wieder zu sehen.
Wir fangen langsam an, die Wohnung zu renovieren.

These should be verbs that can have a subordinate clause with the conjunction dass, and the actors in this case should not be different:

I hope to pass the exam = I hope and I pass:
Ich hoffe, die Prüfung zu bestehen
I hope he passes the exam = I hope, but he passes:
Ich hoffe, dass er die Prüfung besteht.

However, if the meaning of the sentence is impersonal or if it is obvious who should act in a construction with zu, then the actors may be different. This is only possible with certain verbs that are directed at another person (advise, prohibit, suggest).

I’m planning to go on a trip in the summer
Ich habe vor, im Sommer eine Reise zu machen
(I’m planning, I go)

I suggest going on a trip in the summer
Ich schlage vor, im Sommer eine Reise zu machen
(I propose to someone (who is clear from the situation) that we will go on a trip)

I advise you to do your homework now, not in the evening
Ich empfehle dir, deine Hausaufgaben jetzt zu machen, nicht abends
(it is clear who will act (dir))

I forbid smoking here
Ich verbiete, hier zu rauchen
(impersonal meaning)

If the verb has an associated preposition, you must use that too, adding da(r):

denken an: Er denkt daran, die Aufgabe zu lösen.

2. The verb brauchen is not modal. But in the combination brauchen nicht zu it is used as an alternative to the modal verbs muss or soll with negation.

Du brauchst nicht so schnell zu fahren.
Er braucht es nicht zu tun.

This verb can also be used without negation, but with the words nur zu.

Ich brauche nur zu telefonieren.

The verbs drohen zu, scheinen zu also acquire a modal meaning (“may”).

Der Stein droht herunterzufallen
Der Stein scheint herunterzufallen

3. With phrases that can have a subordinate clause with the conjunction dass:

Ich habe Angst
Ich habe Hoffnung
Ich habe Interesse (Lust, Plan, Absicht…)
ich bin bereit

Ich bin bereit, dir zu helfen.

4. With impersonal constructions (permissions, prohibitions, evaluations):

Es ist erlaubt (verboten)
Es ist gut (schwer, schlimm, falsch, gut, gesund, klug, wichtig, richtig…)

Es gibt (zu sehen, zu tun…)

Es ist verboten, hier zu rauchen.

By the way, in these constructions zu + infinitive can become the subject:

Hier zu rauchen ist verboten.

5. In combination with haben

Ich habe zu tun.

Alternative German infinitive clauses with zu + Infinitiv

It can be difficult to remember all the verbs that don’t need zu. Therefore, if in doubt, you can always use an alternative. A common alternative, suitable for almost all verbs, is the dass clause or changing the infinitive into a noun.

Ich gehe zum Einkaufen.
Ich sehe, dass mein Vater kommt.
Ich lehre meine Tochter das Tanzen.
Er hilft seiner Frau beim Aufräumen.
Ich höre, dass Vögel singen. (ich höre singende Vögel)
Es ist verboten, dass man hier raucht.

Sometimes a questionable verb can simply be removed.

Meine Mutter holt mir heute ab.

Um zu clauses – purpose

The previous option replaced the subordinate clause with dass, and this option replaces clause with the conjunction damit (purpose meaning):
I’m going to the store (for what?) to buy milk.

So we have a sentence:
Ich fahre zum Kindergarten, damit ich mein Kind abhole.

It even sounds strange, although it is correct, because everyone uses the shortened version in this case:

Ich fahre zum Kindergarten, um mein Kind abzuholen.

The sequence can also be reversed: first the construction um zu, then the main part. The sequence of verbs and subjects changes according to the rules of subordinate clauses.

Um morgen früh in den Urlaub fahren zu können, packe ich heute die Köffer ein.

Conjunctions and connector adverbs – 2. Different word order in German
Conjunctions in sentences. Word order in German

If the actors are different, you need to use a full clause with damit.

Ich packe heute die Köffer ein, damit wir morgen früh in den Urlaub fahren können.

To master um zu clauses, you must:
– do not forget about its purpose meaning
– don’t forget to put um and a comma
– make sure that the main clause and the subordinate clause have the same actor
– remember the order of words in subordinate clauses, if you put the construction in first place

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statt… zu, ohne… zu clauses

statt zu and ohne zu clauses are similar to um zu clauses, but have slightly different meanings. They are similar to constructions instead of…, without. They are used less frequently than um zu clauses.

Statt so lange zu denken, könntest du dich schon entscheiden.
Ohne nachzudenken, werde ich mich nicht entscheiden.

If the actors are different, you need to use the conjunctions ohne dass, statt dass

Du könntest das alles schon allein machen, anstatt dass wir darüber ewig streiten werden.
Ohne dass sie stundenlang darüber streiten, geht es bei ihnen nichts.

Exercises for the topic Sentences with zu

Modal verbs in German
Verbs with prepositions in German. Preposition um and preposition über
Past tense in German. Perfect and preterite
SS or ß in German
Negation in German
Separable verbs in German
Reach an agreement: vereinbaren vs verabreden, ausmachen etc.
Description of a person’s appearance in German. 3. How to avoid repetition in essay
Difference between enden and beenden, abschließen, aufhören and other synonyms

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