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The German Infinitive

An Overview


Just like in English, the German infinitive is the basic form of a verb (schlafen/ to sleep). However, it is less frequently found than in English to be accompanied by the preposition zu/to. The following is an overview of specifics pertaining to the German infinitive.

  1. The Ending of German Infinitives
    Most German infinitives end with -en (springen/ to jump), but there are also some verbs that end in the infinitive with -ern, -eln, -n (wandern/to wander, hike, sammeln/to collect, sein/ to be.)

  2. Tenses and Moods
    The German infinitive is used in the following tenses and moods:
    The future -> Er will morgen arbeiten./ He wants to work tomorrow.
    Conjunctive II -> Mein Vater möchte gerne nach Köln reisen.
    In the passive -> Die Tür sollte verriegelt sein
    In the passive perfect -> Das Kind scheint zu spät angekommen zu sein.
    With modal verbs ->Der Junge soll die Banana essen, aber er will nicht.

  3. Infinitives as Nouns
    Infinitives can become nouns. No changes necessary. Only you must remember to precede the infinitive-noun with the article das and to always capitalize it. -> das Liegen/ the lying-down, das Essen- the food, das Fahren/ the driving….

  4. Infinitives as Subject
    Some German infinitives can stand in as the subject of a sentence. Some of these are: anfangen, aufhören, beginnen, andenken, glauben, hoffen, meinen, vergessen, versuchen. For Example:
    Sie meint, sie hat immer recht -> Sie meint, immer recht zu haben - He thinks he is always right.
    Note: If you say - Sie meint, er hat immer recht - you can't replace er with the infinitive, since the original subject of the sentence isn't restated.
    Ich freue mich, dass ich ihn bald wiedersehe/ I am happy that I will be able to see him again -> Ich freue mich ihn bald wiederzusehen/ I'm happy to see him again.

  5. Conjugated Verb + Infinitive
    Only a handful of verbs can pair up with an infinitive in a German sentence. These verbs are: bleiben, gehen, fahren, lernen, hören, sehen, lassen. (Ich bleibe hier sitzen/ I will stay sitting here.)

  6. Conjunction + Infinitive
    Phrases with the following conjunctions will always carry a German infinitive, whether it a short or longer phrase: anstatt, ohne, um. For Example:
    Er versucht ohne seinen Stock zu gehen - He tries to walk without his cane.
    Sie geht in die Schule, um zu lernen - She goes to school to learn.

  7. Noun + Infinitive
    Sentences with der Spaß and die Lust will carry a German infinitive:
    Sie hat Lust, heute einkaufen zu gehen/ She feels like going shopping today.

    Sentences with the following nouns will also carry a German infinitive:
    die Absicht, die Angst, die Freude, die Gelegenheit, der Grund, die Möglichkeit, die Mühe, das Problem, die Schwierigkeiten, die Zeit.

    For Example:
    Ich habe Angst dieses alte Auto zu fahren/ I am scared to drive this old car.
    Sie sollte diese Gelegenheit nicht verpassen./ She should not miss this opportunity.

    Exceptions: There will not be an infinitive, if there is a conjunction in the sentence: Es gibt ihr viel Freude, dass er mitgekommen ist/ It gives her great joy, that he came along)
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