Infinitives with and without Zu in German Grammar

 

How to learn German infinitives with and without zu

Introduction

The infinitive is the basic form of a verb and ends in -en. In German grammar, the infinitive is usually used together with a conjugated verb. Depending on which verb it follows, we use the infinitive with or without the preposition zu.

Learn when to use the infinitive with zu and when to use the infinitive without zu. You can test your knowledge in the exercises below.

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Usage

Following verbs take the infinitive without zu:

Example: Diese Spinne kann mir nichts tun. This spider can't hurt me.

Sometimes, in requests with müssen and sollen, you leave out the subject and the modal verb, so that only the infinitive remains.
Example: Du darfst dich nicht bewegen, sonst kommt die Spinne näher. → Beweg dich nicht! You must not move or the spider will come closer. → Don't move.

  • Verbs of the senses such as sehen, hören, spüren, fühlen, see, hear, feel, ....

Example: Lara sieht eine große Spinne auf ihrer Schulter sitzen. Lara sees a big spider sitting on her shoulder.

 

  • Verbs of movement such as gehen, kommen, fahren, laufen, walk, come, go, run, ...

Example: Lara geht weg und holt Hilfe.  Lara is walking away and gets help.

  • Verbs of finden and haben find and have in connection with places.

Example: Lara hat die Spinne gefunden, die auf ihrer Nase saß. Lara found the spider that was sitting von her nose.
 

Wichtig!
lassen, schicken,  leave, send
Example: Das lässt sich machen. That can be done. 


bleiben, remain (in the sense of stay is a certain state or position).
Example: Die Spinne bleibt auf ihrer Nase sitzen. The spider remains sitting on her nose.

important

For separable verbs, we put zu between the prefix and the verb.

Example:

weiterlesen → weiterzulesen
aushalten → auszuhalten

Infinitives with zu
We use the infinitive with to in combination with most other verbs.

Example: Lara versucht zu lesen. Lara is trying to read.
 

Change of meaning
Some verbs have a change in meaning when used with the infinitive with zu.

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Infinitive clauses
We also use the infinitive with zu after specific words and phrases in subordinate clauses.

Example: Lara hat sich vorgenommen, ruhig zu bleiben. Lara made up her mind to stay calm.


Infinitives with and without zu

  • In connection with the verbs lernen, helfen und lehren, learn, help, and teach, can be used. When the infinitive is used in combination with an object or adverb, we usually use the form with zu.

Example:

Das Kind lernt schwimmen. The child is learning to swim.
Ich lerne, ohne Fehler zu singen. I'm learning to sing without making mistakes.
Ich helfe dir beim Einkaufen. I'm helping you to go shopping.
Er hilft Lara, die Spinne zu entfernen. He helps Lara remove the spider.

 

  • We can also drop zu in an infinitive clause if it is the subject.

Example:
Laut zu singen, macht Spaß. Laut singen macht Spaß. Singing out loud is fun.
Was macht Spaß? What is fun? - The infitive clause is the subject.