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The Infinitive in German Grammar

How to use the German infinitive


The infinitive form is the basic form of the verb.
You will find this form in dictionary entries; it corresponds to the English form with to + the simple verb, e.g.:

sehen - to see, haben - to have, wissen - to know.

Most German infinitives end in -en, except for two that end in -n (sein, tun) and a handful that end in -ern (e.g. wandern, ändern) and -eln (e.g. handeln, sammeln). This simplest form is also called the Infinitiv Präsens / present infinitive. When we speak of the infinitive, we usually mean the present infinitive.

There are four types of infinitives in the German language:

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The infinitive is usually used in a sentence in addition to another finite (conjugated) verb form. It is often used together with finite modal verbs (können, müssen, dürfen, sollen, wollen, möchten), some verbs of perception (e.g. hören, sehen, spüren) and some other verbs (e.g. lassen, gehen, bleiben, helfen, lehren).


The infinitive is also used in the formation of some tenses and moods of verbs. When a finite verb is used, the accompanying infinitive comes at the end of a sentence or independent clause.

Have a look at the example sentences below. Modal verbs are marked in green. The infinitive is marked in red.

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Important: A translation is not always possible. The preposition "to" is sometimes dropped, and in some cases, the English -ing is a better equivalent for the German infinitive.

The present participle

The present participle of German verbs is formed by adding -d to the infinitive form of the verb.

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A participle is a word formed from a verb. In German grammar, there are two types of participles:

Participle I is the present participle (similar to the gerund in English grammar), and Participle II is the past participle (formed with -ed in English).

The most common use of the present participle in German is as an adjective. Like other adjectives, the present participle takes on endings when used attributively.

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We can use participles as adjectives to shorten or replace sentences or in the conjugation of compound German tenses.

Present participle
We use the German Partizip Präsens or Partizip I:

  • For one of two actions taking place at the same time

Example: Frau Müller zieht sich singend ihre Jacke an. Mrs Müller puts on her jacket while singing.

  • As an attributive adjective (with an adjectival ending)

Example: In einem neben der Kommode stehenden Schirmständer steht ein Schirm. There is an umbrella in an umbrella stand next to the chest of drawers.

Past participle
We use the German past participle or Partizip II:

  • Instead of a clause expressing that the action described by the participle took place before another action.

Example: Der Wetterbericht gehört, weiß Frau Kunze, dass es heute nicht regnen wird. Hearing the weather report, Mrs Kunze knows that it will not rain today.

  • As an attributive adjective (with an adjectival ending)

Example: Deshalb lässt sie den zusammengeklappten Schirm dort stehen. That's why she leaves the folded umbrella there.

  • In compound tenses (present, perfect, future, perfect)

Example: Die beiden haben sich lange nicht mehr getroffen. They haven't met for a long time.

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Present Participle

  • With the verb sein, we add an extra e before the n.

    Example: sein - seiend

Past Participle

  • Many strong and mixed verbs change their stem in the past participle.

      Example: gehen – gegangen,  bringen – gebracht

  • If the word stem ends in -d/-t, we add an extra -et to weak and mixed verbs

    Example: warten – gewartet

  • Verbs with the ending -ieren form the past participle without ge-

    Example: studieren – studiert

  • Inseparable verbs form the past participle without ge-

    Example: verstehen – verstanden

  • With separable verbs, the ge goes after the prefix

    Example: ankommen – angekommen

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