German Infinitival Clauses
In this week’s episode of 3 Minuten Deutsch, I talked about how to make infinitival clauses in German using the prepositions “um”, “ohne”, and “anstatt” to precede them. While these are helpful and they are most likely the most popular versions of these this style of construction, I thought that this blog post could take a look at some verbs that require an infinitival clause very similar to these prepositions, but not quite the same. If you want to know about the prepositions mentioned, watch the video below. If you want to dive a bit deeper, just keep scrolling.
Certain verbs in German will often be followed by an infinitival clause just like you saw in that video. As usual, you do something similar in English. “I plan to go to the movies this evening.” would be one example of this in English. In German the verb “vorhaben” (to have planned) is one of the verbs that is often accompanied by one of these clauses. Here are a few examples of it in action.
Ich habe vor, heute Abend ins Kino zu gehen. – I plan to go to the movies this evening.
Hast du vor, ein Buch irgendwann zu lesen? – Do you plan to read a book anytime?
Er hat vor, in den Alpen Ski zu fahren. – He plans to go skiing in the Alps.
As you can see, the general idea is the same, but you don’t need a preposition in order to form these infinitival clauses. There are some example sentences with several other verbs in German that do something similar.
Du musst lernen, den Ball weiter zu werfen. – You have to learn to throw the ball further.
Er lernt, Apfelkuchen zu backen. – He is learning to bake apple pie.
Sie behauptet, meine Schwester zu kennen. – She claims to know my sister.
Ich hoffe, meine Prüfung zu bestehen. – I hope to pass my test.
Ihr Freund verspricht, ihr immer treu zu bleiben. – Her boyfriend promises to always remain faithful to her.
Das Kind vergisst, den Hund zu füttern. – The child forgets to feed the dog.
Der Mann entscheidet sich, das Brot nicht zu essen. – The man is deciding not to eat the bread.
Ich kann mir nicht leisten, ein neues Auto zu kaufen. – I cannot afford to buy a new car.
Der Bauer traut sich nicht, mit den Bullen zu rennen. – The farmer doesn’t dare run with the bulls.
It takes a while to get used to the fact that you don’t have a subject in the secondary clause, but once you pick up on which verbs and in what situations you can apply this rule, it is actually quite fun to do. The important thing to remember is that the subject of the first clause usually need to be the same as the subject of the second clause. If you have different subjects, this construction doesn’t work.
There are, however, certain times when you can use the object of one clause as the subject of the next. Here are a few examples of what that would look like:
Ich befehle dir, den Hund zu füttern. – I order you to feed the dog.
Der Lehrer bittet die Schüler, die Hausaufgaben zu machen. – The teacher asks the students to do the homework.
Der Junge lädt das Mädchen ein, ins Kino zu gehen. – The boy invites the girl to go to the movies.
Der Teufel überzeugt den Mann, seine Seele zu verkaufen. – The devil convinces the man to sell his soul.
Herr Antrim erlaubt den Schülern, Wasser im Klassenzimmer zu trinken. – Herr Antrim allows the students to drink water in the classroom.
Die Frau hilft dem Mann, sein Auto zu reparieren. – The woman helps the man to repair his car.
Hopefully, this blog post helped to enlighten you about some of the cool things you can do in German with infinitival clauses. If you have any questions, you can ask them in the comments of the video linked at the top of this article or in the comments under this blog post. I’ll be happy to answer any questions you may have.
Next week’s episode of 3 Minuten Deutsch will talk about separable prefixes. After that, I will start my four week series on the dative case including indirect object, dative verbs, dative prepositions, and dative pronouns.