How to learn Infinitive Clauses in German Grammar


Infinitive clauses are dependent clauses formed with the infinitive form of a verb and the preposition zu (to). Infinitive clauses with um zu express the purpose of an action. In German grammar, certain verbs and phrases are followed by an infinitive clause.
Learn the rules of German word order in German infinitive clauses and master their usage. You can test your grammar skills in the exercises.

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We use infinitive phrases after specific words and phrases (see list below).

Example: vorhaben → Ich habe vor, mit dem Golfspielen zu beginnen. intend → I intend to start playing golf.

An infinitive clause usually comes after a main clause, but sometimes it can come at the beginning of the sentence.
Example: Wie ein Profi zu spielen, ist nahezu unmöglich. To play like a professional is almost impossible.

Infinitive clauses usually are referring to the subject of the main clause.
Example: Sie müssen erst einmal lernen, den Ball zu treffen. You must first learn to hit the ball.

However, with certain words and phrases, the infinitive clause refers to the object.
Example: empfehlen → Ich empfehle Ihnen, einen Schläger für Anfänger zu nehmen. Recommend → I recommend that you take a beginner's club.

When we want to express the target or purpose of an action, we use um zu. In this case, the infinitive clause always refers to the subject.

Example: Ich bin gekommen, um mir einen guten Golfschläger zu kaufen. I came to buy a good golf club.
Um so gut zu werden, haben die Profis viele Jahre lang jeden Tag trainiert. To get this good, the pros practiced every day for many years.

Word order in German infinitive clauses
To form infinitive clauses, we use the word zu with the infinitive of the verb and put these two words at the end of the sentence.

Example: Ich kann bald wie ein deutscher Muttersprachler sprechen. → Ich hoffe, bald wie ein ein deutscher Muttersprachler sprechen zu können. I will soon be able to speak like a native German speaker. → I hope to be able to speak like a native German speaker soon.


In um zu clauses, on the other hand, the um is at the beginning of the infinitive clause.
Ich bin hier, um Deutsch zu lernen. I am here to learn German.

Sentence structure with separable verbs
For separable verbs, um is placed between the prefix and the stem of the verb.

einziehen → einzuziehen 
einkaufen→ einzukaufen

List of words and phrases that need the infinitive.

There are certain words and phrases after which we often use an infinitive clause in German. The infinitive clause can involve either the subject, the object of the main clause, or an impersonal clause.

Infinitive clauses refer to the subject.
List of simple verbs that require infinitive clauses.
Die Studentin will mit dem Deutschlernen beginnen. The student wants to start learning German.
Sie hofft, dass sie bald wie ein deutscher Muttersprachler sprechen kann. She hopes that soon she will be able to speak like a native German speaker.

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