German for Music Lovers

©A. Campitelli, , 1999-2012 and onwards
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Infinitives with “zu”

      1. zu "zu" oder nicht zu "zu": das ist die Frage . . . when to
        use "zu" in front of an infinitive
      2. word order in the infinitive phrase
      3. placement of "zu"
        in verbs with multiple parts: compound verbs, verbs with modals, separable-prefix verbs
      4. commas
        and infinitive phrases
      5. when to use "um":
        when "to" means "in order to"
      6. "without" "do"-ing something:
        "ohne . . . zu"
      7. Übungen

I. No "zu": modals & gern

"zu" & infinitive

With a modal verb (können, dürfen, sollen, wollen, möchte(n), müssen, lassen), do not use the preposition “zu” before a dependent infinitive.
You do not have to use "zu" with "gern" to say you like to do something. Just use "gern" with the appropriate verb.
However, when you use an infinitive in an infinitive phrase without a modal, you do need to use the preposition “zu.” 

1. Ich möchte neue Leute kennenlernen.
I would like to meet new people.

1ZU. Es ist interessant, neue Leute kennen zu lernen.
It is interesting to meet new people.

2. Ich möchte ein fremdes Land besuchen.
I would like to visit a foreign country.

2ZU. Es ist interessant, ein fremdes Land zu besuchen.
It is interesting to visit a foreign country.

3. Ich will heute Abend ins Kino gehen.
I want to go to the movies tonight..

3ZU. Es wäre schön, heute Abend ins Kino zu gehen.
It would be nice to go to the movies tonight.

4. Ich gehe gern mit Freunden tanzen.
I like to go dancing with friends.

4ZU. Es macht mir Spaß, mit Freunden tanzen zu gehen.
It’s fun to go dancing with friends.

5. Ich lerne gern Deutsch.
I like learning German.

5ZU. Es macht mir Spaß, Deutsch zu lernen.
It’s fun to learn German.

6. Man soll die Zeitung täglich lesen.
One is supposed to read the newspaper daily.

6ZU. Es ist wichtig, die Zeitung täglich zu lesen.
It is important to read the newspaper daily.

7. Man soll jeden Tag Obst und Gemüse essen.
One is supposed to eat fruit and vegetables every day.

7ZU. Es ist wichtig, jeden Tag Obst und Gemüse zu essen.
It is important to eat fruit and vegetables every day.

II. Word order in infinitive phrases is practically a mirror image of what the word order would be in an English infinitive phrase. Follow the word order rules for the inner field.
  • to go = fahren
  • to go to the university = an die Uni fahren
  • to go to the university early =  früh an die Uni fahren
  • to invite = einladen
  • to invite friends = Freunde einladen
  • to invite friends often = oft Freunde einladen
  • to invite friends often for coffee =oft Freunde zum Kaffee einladen
  • to go to the movies with you tonight=heute Abend mit euch ins Kino gehen
Now let’s use one of these infinitive phrases with a modal: Now let’s use it without a modal:
  • Ich möchte heute Abend mit euch ins Kino gehen.
    I would like to go with you to the movies tonight.
  • Wegen meiner Erkältung ist es mir unmöglich, heute Abend mit euch ins Kino zu gehen.
    Because of my cold it's impossible for me to go with you to the movies tonight.

Notice the word order: the infinitive is the last word in the phrase.

The objects or modifiers that come before the infinitive follow the word order rules that apply to the inner field. For example, word order follows the “TeMPo” rule:  "first Time, then Manner, then Place." 

Used with a modal, the infinitive is not preceded by “zu.”  Otherwise it is preceded by “zu.

  • Use "zu" in infinitive phrases --
  • --UNLESS you are using a modal "dürfen, können, möchten, müssen, sollen, wollen" or "gern" -- then, there's NO "zu."
III. When the infinitive verb is compound or has a separable prefix,
the “zu” precedes the part of the verb that you conjugate.
Set the infinitive phrase off with a comma. 

Es ist mir interessant, neue Leute kennen zu lernen.
It is interesting to me to meet new people.

Es macht mir Spaß, Deutsch sprechen zu können.
It’s fun for me to be able to speak German.

Bei kaltem Wetter ist es wichtig, sich warm anzuziehen.
In cold weather it is important to dress warmly.

Es ist unsere Gewohnheit, am Samstag Freunde zum Abendessen einzuladen.
It’s our custom to invite friends to dinner on Saturday.

IV. Sometimes the infinitive phrase consists simply of the infinitive with “zu.” 
When the infinitive phrase is so short, you don’t need to set it off with a comma. 
  • Es ist schlecht zu lügen. 
    It is good to live.
  • Es ist gut zu leben. 
    It is bad to lie.

V. um … zu, ohne … zu

Look at the following sentences.

1. I’m calling to invite you to the party.
2. It’s fun to go to a party.
3. We’re working to buy a vacation home.
4. It is expensive to buy a vacation home.
5. I’m learning to speak German.
6. I’m practicing my verbs to speak German better. 

Look at the sentences again. 
You can restate some of them with the phrase “in order to.”
-- Which ones?  

Sentences 1, 3 and 6 can be restated with “in order to”:

1. I’m calling in order to invite you to the party.
3. We’re working in order to buy a vacation home.
6. I’m practicing my verbs in order to speak German better.

For an infinitive phrase which can be restated beginning with “in order to,” you must use the combination “um … zu” in German, rather than just “zu.” 
Look at sentences 1, 3 and 6 in German:

1. Ich rufe dich an, um dich zur Party einzuladen.
3. Wir arbeiten, um ein Ferienhaus zu kaufen.
6. Ich übe meine Verben, um Deutsch besser zu sprechen.

In English, the phrase “in order to” is optional;  you can simplify it by just saying “to.”  However, in German, the “um” is not optional.  If you can restate with “in order to,” you must use both “um” and “zu” in the German infinitive phrase.

VI. ohne … zu

The phrase “ohne … zu” is similar to “um … zu” in that “ohne” begins the infinitive phrase and “zu” comes before the infinitive that ends the phrase.  We translate an “ohne … zu” infinitive phrase in German by using a gerund or progressive (“-ing”) form in English.

Wir fuhren für die Party ab, ohne zu wissen, wann sie beginnt.

We left for the party without knowing when it starts.

Wie kannst du eine gute Note bekommen, ohne dir Mühe zu geben?

How can you get a good grade without making an effort?

Er ist weggegangen, ohne Abschied zu nehmen.

He left without saying goodbye. (without taking leave)

Wir wollen viel Geld verdienen, ohne viel arbeiten zu müssen.

We want to earn a lot of money without having to work much.
Du weißt, ohne mich darum zu bitten, daß ich dir helfe. You know without asking me for it that I will help you.

Übungen (Exercises)

© A. Campitelli, 2003-2008