Learn German Online – “zu or um zu”

Winnie and friends have found the rule for zu and um zuHello everyone,

and welcome to another part of the German Online Course. Today we will look at one particular part of the grammar that seems to be random to a lot of students and is yet incredibly easy to master if properly explained… which I will do today. What’s that? As host I shouldn’t boast in a post? Noooo problem, I totally accept your challenge. If you have not understood the rules I am going to explain by the end of this post you will get all your money back… I will keep your time as a processing fee though. And to keep this amount as small as possible I will stop with the BS right now.

The question we are going to look at, or to be more precise, that we will answer once and for all is:

When do I use “zu” and when “um zu”? 

One word on pronunciation first. Um zu sounds like “oum tsoo” as opposed to zoo.
The German z is always pronounced like a hard tss.
The question “When do I use zu and um zu” is actually not quite correct because there are 3 rather than 2 alternatives to chose from. The third one, the often neglected and yet powerful knight is:
which is pronounced like            .
Why there is nothing you wonder? Because the third alternative is nothing. To understand all that let’s take a look at the situation in which you have to chose between the 3.
Some basic background first. A boring simple sentence consists of an action represented by the verb, a subject, which is the entity “doing” the action and some other blocks of information that give answers to various questions like why, where, when, whom and so on.

  • I call my brother with my phone.

This sentence has the action call, I am the one doing it and the sentence contains answers to the questions “Who do I call?” and “How do I call him?”. If you have 2 actions you can of course make 2 sentences but your language will end up pretty stiff and robotic and it is nicer to fit the verb into the sentence you already have. An example for such a construction would be a Santa Clause… uhm I meant… subordinate clause…if you don’t know what that is, don’t worry, here is an example.First the 2 sentence version.

  • I call my brother with my phone.
  • I bought this phone 2 months ago.

Wow… riveting.

  • I call my brother with my phone, which I bought 2 months ago.

The second part has it’s own subject (again it’s I) and the verb (to buy) is conjugated and in past with perfect aspect. It is essentially a full sentence that has been connected to the first part by the word “which”. But there are other, shorter ways to add a second action to your sentence. They are not always feasible but let’s not go too far here. English has essentially 2.

  • Being bored I call my brother with my phone.
  • I call my brother with my phone to ask him something.

Note that these are 2 grammatical structures, it has nothing to do with meaning. Constructions of type 1, that is constructions with -ing can have a variety of different meanings and it is sometimes cumbersome to translate those lean elegant phrasings to German.
Anyway, it is the second structure that we will focus on today.
This is when the question about zu or um zu or            arises – whenever you need to translate “to + verb”. The grammatical term for this is infinitive phrase and as we are at it the scientific name for dog is Canis lupis familiaris…. but… I think dog will do.

So there are 3 possibilities to translate a “to+verb” construction. You either use zu, um zu or nothing. These 3 are NOT interchangeable so you need to know when to use which. People will probably still understand what you are trying to say if you chose the wrong one, but it makes you sound very beginner and, given the straightforwardness of the rules, it would be a pity to downgrade your skill that way. Of course understanding the rules and applying them without thought are 2 different things so train you must but succeed you will.

Now let’s look at all 3 possibilities one at a time and we will start with nothing… we are not borne with a golden spoon in our mouths here after all :).

When to use nothing.

Nothing is used whenever your first verb, the conjugated one, is a German modal verb. Note that English and German modal verbs are different. The English to want is not a modal, the German wollen however is. So we are talking about the German ones here.
Those are:

  • können, wollen, mögen, müssen, dürfen, sollen and möchten

I don’t want to talk about all of them in detail and I will add a link to the respective post as soon as that post is written.

  • I am able to swim.
  • Ich kann schwimmen.
  • I want to go to the farmers market.
  • I will auf den Markt gehen.
  • You are not allowed to smoke in this bar.
  • In der Bar darf man nicht rauchen.

As you can see there is no zu or um zu anywhere. When you take a look at the English modal verbs you will realize that they have the same grammar in that there is no to used to connect the other verb.

  • I must leave now.
  • Ich muss jetzt gehen.
  • Thou shalt not steal.
  • Du sollst nicht stehlen.

But as already mentioned, the German and English modal verbs are not the same so you need to learn the German ones. “I have to” or “I want to” are modal verbs in German while “you need not” is not. I will put a link here to the lecture about modal verbs as soon as I have written it :).

When to use “zu”

Zu alone is used whenever the first part of your sentence that is the part up to the to , cannot stand for itself. What does that mean? Well imagine a room full a people, maybe a diner party or something. You sit there but you have not been part of any conversation for a while. You get up, say the first part of the sentence with pathos and leave.
If everyone in the room is now totally confused then it will be just zu in German.

  • I try …

Without conversational history that just doesn’t make sense. It needs the second part, the to-part, for completion and whenever this is the case, to translates to  zu. Let’s look at some more examples.

  •  Thomas plans…                          “What???”, “Huh???”
  • Thomas plans to spend his summer in Paris.          “Ohhhh I see”
  • Thomas plant, seinen Sommer in Paris zu verbringen.
  • I forgot… “What??”, “Like generally???”, “Do you have amnesia???”
  • I forgot to turn off my stove.          “Oh damn, well hurry home then.”
  • Ich habe vergessen, meinen Herd auszumachen.
  • I go to the kitchen…        “Can you get me a beer.”, “Me too?”
  • I go to the kitchen to get me a beer.    “Can you get me one too?”, “Yeah for me as well?”
  • Ich gehe in die Küche, um mir ein Bier zu holen.

The last example was different. Here the first part alone does make sense and no-one at the diner party is left confused.

When to use “um… zu”

The rules you have learned thus far are technically already enough to do everything correctly. When the verb of the first part is a German (not an English, there are some small differences) modal verb you use nothing, when the first part doesn’t make sense for itself you use zu and in all other cases… wait my red exception phone is ringing… just a second…. Yeah hey man, I got it under control this time… yeah, but I was gonna tell them about that one later… as a wrap up… thanks anyway… yeah you too man. Bye. ….
sorry, so in pretty much all other cases you use um zu.
But there is a second way to determine whether it is zu or um zu.
Whenever  you can replace the English to with in order to or because I want to respectively you have to use um zu.

  • I go to the kitchen to get a beer.
  • I go to the kitchen in order to get a beer.
  • I go to the kitchen because I want to get a beer.

It obviously works. All 3 sentences are saying the same thing, hence the German translation  is done with um zu.  Now let’s cross check:

  • I forgot to turn of my stove.
  • I forgot in order to turn of my stove.
  • I forgot because I want to turn off my stove.

This does not work, unless of course forgetting was the only way to empower you for a shutdown of the stove…

“Son, you MUST turn off the stove of evil or the kingdom of the elves is doomed.”
“But … but … how, I am just a normal farm boy after all, how could I possibly turn it off?”
“Ignorance, son, ignorance! You must learn to forget if you want to turn off this stove!”

yeah… maybe in a parallel universe.

The 2 questions, the diner-party-one and the in-order-to-one yield the same answer, so technically you only need to use one of them. It might happen however, especially with the party one that you are not certain. A good example is for such case is the following.

  • Hilf mir,… !
  • Help me… !

This does sound pretty complete and lots of people at the diner party will be willing to help but … with what. If there is no clue at all about what you could use help with, then it is not complete. This is still arguable though so let’s try the other question.

  • Help me to fix my bike!
  • Help me in order to fix my bike!

That doesn’t really sound proper. Sure it might not be as weird as “I forgot in order to call my mom.” but it is not correct after all. The in order to alternative has to feel good, otherwise it is very unlikely that it is um zu. So for the example with help, the correct pick is zu.

  • Hilf mir, mein Fahrrad zu reparieren.

Difficult decisions

There are some cases where the decision based on the system proposed above is difficult. This is especially the case for one special phrasing… the too-phrasing.

  • The car was driving too fast to read the license plate.
  • This lecture was too difficult  to understand.

Let’s see what to do here. First we rephrase.

  • The car was driving too fast in order to read the license plate.
  • This lecture was too difficult in order to understand.

Hmmm… that doesn’t make sense in any of the 2 phrases to me… maybe a little more in the first one but still it sounds wrong. That would suggest that it is just zu.  But let’s do the party check and see if the statements would be downright confusing.

  • The car was driving too fast.
  • This lecture was too difficult.

Shit. Both these sentences CAN stand alone. This suggests that it is um … zu…  . The best you can do in these cases is turn the sentence around and do the check again.

  • The car was slow enough to read the license plate.
  • This lecture was easy enough to understand.

The first sentence clearly works with in order to now and although the first part alone kinda works, in order to overrules here. So the first one is

  • Das Auto ist zu schnell gefahren, um das Nummernschild zu erkennen.

I will not work with simply zu. In really high German you would use als dass in that case but let’s not go too far here.
In the second sentence, in order to works too but this time it changes the meaning a bit. Without in order to the sentence means that the lecture had such a level of difficulty that it was possible to understand it. When you put in in order to the meaning is: the lecture was designed or planned in all its easiness so that people would be able to understand it.
So here you can either use just zu or um zu. Both are correct but they do not mean the same thing.
I hope this makes some sense to you. It does to me but I am not an English native so those who are might feel differently about some I said. This special case is REALLY hard to decide. You can somehow apply the rules but it is not as easy as in “normal” situations. I’d say when in doubt go for um zu… it might be wrong but it won’t sounds as bad as a missing um.
Now let’s do something refreshing ;).

Grammar of zu and um zu

You have probably already gotten an impression about the word order in sentences with zu and um zu. In either case this part of the sentence is a minor sentence as I like to call it, so it is one of the ones where all verbs are at the very end of the phrase.
The zu stands at the same position as the ge- would be, it is just not connected to the verb.

  • Ich habe vergessen, Milch, Eier und Butter zu kaufen.
  • I forgot to buy milk, eggs and butter.

If you have a verb with a weakly linked prefix, the zu goes in between basic verb and prefix… just as the ge. For strongly linked prefixes it goes in front.

  • Ich habe vergessen, meinen Chef anzurufen.
  • I forgot to call my boss.
  • Ich habe vor, mein Auto zu verkaufen.
  • I intend to sell my car.

If the sentence continues after the to-part, that is done accordingly in German.

  • Ich habe vergessen, meinem Chef zu sagen, dass das Meeting morgen um 3 beginnt.
  • I forgot, to tell my boss, that the meeting will start at 3 tomorrow.

End of the sentence means end of the according phrase and not of the whole sentence.
The position of um is really simple… it introduces the respective part.

  • Ich gehe in die Küche, um mir ein leckeres, kaltes Bier aus dem riesigen Kühlschrank zu holen.
  • I am going to the kitchen to get myself a tasty cold beer from the gigantic fridge.

And now a tough one. Behold.

  •  It would be nice to be able to call you to ask you to come by.

What a scary monster, doesn’t make much sense but sure there is a lot TO it… get it?? Not funny?? Ok, I tried.
Let’s now do the translation one to at a time. “It would be nice” clearly makes no sense all by itself without any context so this one is going to be just zu. To be able to is können and it doesn’t make sense alone either. In addition it is a modal verb in German hence the next to is connected with nothing.

  • Es wäre schön, dich anrufen zu können …

Why the anrufen is in front of the können you ask? That is because the German modal verbs are pretty much always completed by another verb. The sentence “I am able to call you.” translates to

  •  Ich kann dich anrufen.

To transform this into a minor sentence, you move the können to the end.

  • Ich bin froh, weil ich dich anrufen kann.

Constructions with zu are minor sentences too, so there you have the same word order. But let’s get back to the example. The next to is “to ask you”. The part before that is “It would be nice to be able to call you.”. This is a complete statement hence the next to is going to be um zu. Crosscheck: “It would be nice to be able to call you in order to ask you…”… yeah this works too. So the German sentence thus far is:

  • Es wäre schön, dich anrufen zu können, um dich zu bitten,

This doesn’t sound quite complete. Hence the last to should be just zu again but let’s try the other question once more. “It would be nice, to be able to call you to ask you in order to come by.”. Hmmm, given the weirdness of the whole sentence this could make some sense but it doesn’t REALLY feel right.  Anyway, the fact that the first part is incomplete is undebatable so we’ll go for zu. So here is the final sentence.

  • It would be nice to be able to call you to ask you to come by.
  • Es wäre schön, dich anrufen zu können, um dich zu bitten, vorbeizukommen.

So this was the grammar of          , zu and um zu. If you have questions about how to translate a certain sentence just write a comment, I will try to answer a soon as possible. But now, as a little reward for your grammar stamina, here is the part you have all been yearning for.

Exceptions

Don’t worry. It is not so many… just to … uhm … two of course. I’m starting to get a little confused.
So first you have to note that the following English pattern CANNOT be translated according to what we have done today:

  • Question Word + to + verb

Examples are:

  • I don’t know how to do that.
  • I don’t know when to stop.
  • I remember who to ask to get information.

For these you have to go all the way and make a full minor sentence in German. As you do not really have a subject for the second verb in the English sentence,  one usually uses the German man.

  • I don’t know how to to that.
  • I don’t know how one/I has to do that.
  • Ich weiß nicht, wie man/ich das macht/mache.
  • I do not know when to stop.
  • I do not know when one has to stop.
  • Ich weiß nicht, wann man aufhört.
  • I remember who to ask to get information.
  • I remeber who one/I has/have to ask in order to get information.
  • Ich erinnere mich, wen man/ich fragen muss, um Informationen zu bekommen.

This might seem unnecessarily long and complicated but there is no other way.

The second exception is the word gehen. It is not a modal verb and yet you can connect verbs to it as if it were.

  • I go to the supermarket to buy milk.
  • Ich gehe in den Supermarkt, um Milch zu kaufen.
  • Ich gehe in den Supermarkt Milch kaufen.
  • I go to the bar to have a couple of beers.
  • Ich gehe in die Bar, um 2 Bier zu trinken.
  • Ich gehe in die Bar 2 Bier trinken.

Either of the German sentences is correct. Using um zu makes it sounds like you are telling us the goal you pursue, while the other version sounds more like a simple description of what you are going to do at the place. In the examples above I would use the latter phrasing but there are certainly situations where the goal deserves the focus… I just can’t think of them right now. I actually can’t think anymore at all… but we are dooooooone!!!!!!

So to sum it all up:

  • if German modal to                                = nothing.
  • confused diner party                             = zu.
  • if to can be replaced by in order to = um zu.

So this is it. If you have questions or suggestions just leave me a comment. If you want your money back, download the according form from the download section and send it to the address in the contact section. These sections don’t exists you say? Oh… look under uhm…. hmm….  uhm… gotta go…. … … … … … … … … …

BTW: if you want to train – here is an exercise for you.

Hope you liked it and see you next time.

Oh, by the way… I know that all of you are now like:
“I found that online and it was free… that is really cool.”
Yes, it is and you can help keep it that way… by paying for it. A dollar already helps.
“Voluntarily paying for free things? That sounds stupid.”
No, it’s not. It’s freedom of choice… and it’s hippie :)
“Meh… I’m too lazy.”
No, you’re not ;)

Danke!

92 responses to “Learn German Online – “zu or um zu”

  1. Periannan Chandrasekaran

    Hi
    I stumbled on your blog and found it very very useful and well explained. LIke this one about choosing between um/zu and zu. I also liked the exercises at the end which threw me off as I tried to translate verbatim the English sentences like in “Ich weiss nicht, wie das zu tun”.

    Like

  2. Hi i want to learn different languages and german is one of my favourite language to learn and i have found some good information in yours post keep posting .Thanks

    Like

  3. Sanjoy Mahajan

    About “Das Auto ist zu schnell gefahren, um das Nummernschild zu erkennen.”, you mention that really high German would use als dass. Is another possibility “…um das Nummernschild erkennen zu lassen” (to keep the subject of the main clause the same as the implied subject of the um…zu clause? Thanks for an excellent site.

    Like

    • well that does not work… the issue is actually a bit complicated… I just didn’t include it into the post because it is very long already… anyway

      • Das Auto/Thomas fährt zu schnell, um das Nummernschild zu lesen. … this is NOT a clear statement. It could mean:
      • Thomas is driving too fast with the consequence that the license plate could not be read.

      but it could also mean:

      • Thomas is driving too fast ON PURPOSE so that he can read the license plate.

      You see that these are actually pretty different. Based on context, everybody would perceive it as the first version, but in words I’d say it is actually more the second. Now onto als dass.

      • Thomas fährt zu schnell, als dass man das Nummernschild lesen könnte.

      This is clear. This expresses exactly one thing… the first version. Noone can read the plate because he is driving so fast. Just the grammar is more difficult with the könnte and such so people tend to use um zu.

      Your version with lassen was grammatically correct. BUT… lassen in phrasings like that one means to allow for… so your sentence does clearly express the second idea… Thomas is driving too fast. This way he allows for a reading of his license plate.
      So… you shouldn’t use that version unless that is what you want to say.
      BTW… I am not 100% sure what “Thomas is driving too fast to read the license plate” means in English… maybe it just means the second version… then I would need to change the article actually :)
      Hope I could help

      Like

      • Thanks for the further explanation.

        I had to think about the sound of it a bit, but “Thomas is driving too fast to read the license plate,” means only the first version (he simply cannot read it, because he is going too fast). But if you put in “in order”, then it becomes, “Thomas is driving too fast in order to read the license plate,” it almost means that by driving fast he hopes to read the license plate (e.g. by catching up to another car). But the “too” sounds wrong, and it should really be, “Thomas is driving (so) fast in order to read the license plate.” The “too” has a connotation of a mistake, which contradicts the idea of purpose conveyed by “in order to.” (that’s why the simpler version, without the “in order,” cannot have the second interpretation).

        Like

        • I think your reply slipped my attention for some reason so I just read it… that was really interesting. I really love these subtle notions of things that only natives or people who are deeply immersed in a language can know, it is just so valuable. Thanks a lot
          :)

          Like

          • I hope you’ll see this after all this time…

            I’d like to clarify your sentence, “Thomas is driving too fast to read the license plate.” By itself, it means that Thomas is driving so fast that he can’t read the license plate he is looking at. You were trying to say, “Thomas is driving too fast for me to read the license plate.” Your meaning can be derived from the context of the previous sentence, and would be understood by anyone who also saw him driving, but by itself it could be confusing.

            That said, I really appreciate your site. Every place I’ve seen tells me what words to use, but precious few tell WHY. Among the latter, yours is the most entertaining, so it’s easier to remember. Thank you! : )

            Like

  4. I burst out laughing while reading this post. You’re too funny!! Thank you thank you thank you for enlightening people like me. I’m looking forward to your lesson on the infamous 4 Cases :D

    Like

  5. Ms. Magnolia Thunderthighs

    Thank you for the articles. I am very new at the German language, so this is all rather confusing, but I’m hoping it will suddenly make sense if I keep immersing myself with it. I have started to recognize the lyrics in Rammstein songs much easier, so something is working. :)

    Anyway, I feel I need to correct you on one English mistake you made several times in this blog:
    “I forgot to turn of my stove” should actually be “I forgot to turn OFF my stove.” OF is a preposition that indicates possession: “The government OF Germany” OFF indicates the opposite of ON.

    Thanks you for all the help with the German language!

    Like

    • Grrrr… I hate of and off :). I really have issues with those… “People fall of of things”… so thanks a lot for the clarification. I really appreciate that. I hope it wasn’t the article that is confusing you. I really try to explain things as clear as possible and confusing is something I really do not want to be, so if it is and you think it is due to the explanation, then let me know which part because I really really want to improve that. If it is just generally confusing however, then don’t worry…. “um zu vs. zu” is a question that turns up at some point in a German learning career but if you don’t have the question, you can’t benefit too much from an answer as you would have to find out, what exactly the problem is first :).
      Anyway, viel Glück with your studies and just hang in there. German has a freaking steep learning curve in the beginning but at some point it just plateaus for good and then all that is left is practice.

      Like

  6. Tuba the German Learner

    Leave a comment. Was it helpful? Did you have fun while learning?
    Yes.. and yes!
    Danke sehr :)

    Like

  7. Howdy,

    There’s something that still bothering me about this zu and thingy..
    I once read in my lesson book that zu is used in ‘verneinung’, the keyword is ‘brauchen’. so when you say ‘need not’ you use ‘zu’ (ich brauche nichts einzukaifen) but is it also correct if I use brauchen in other case like ‘ich brauche Kaffee zu trinken’? Danke im voraus :)

    Like

    • Hi Kelvin,

      I was hoping for someone to ask that. I didn’t want to include it into the post as it is kind of a small scale exception… so:

      brauchen + nicht + zu + verb = need not / don’t have to

      but the positive version does not work at all:

      Ich brauche Kaffee zu trinken is NOT correct… that should be muss instead…. it is not logical why the negative works and the positive doesn’t, but that’s how it is :).
      BTW… I think the brauchen + nicht + zu is something that they kind of find important in intermediate German tests.

      Like

      • What about “nicht brauchen zu” vs. “nicht muessen”? I was taught that “nicht brauchen zu + inf” is correct, and that “nicht muessen” (in the equivalent sense of not needing to do something) is incorrect. But I often see “nicht muessen” in actual German. Is it one of those textbook grammar rules that people don’t actually follow? Or is it okay with the proper intonation?

        Like

        • This rule is weird… and wrong I think. If you want to put an obligation/need in the negative in German I use “nicht müssen” like 70 % of the time if not more. I do use brauchen that way too but not so much. Is there a difference… maybe a little tiny tiny tiny but nothing you need to care about… just go for nicht müssen. Nicht brauchen will very likely cause soooooo much confusion.
          I don’t know what your mothertongue is but I could imagine that your teacher of German drew a false paralell to English… there “must not” is not the negative of “must” but something else and “need not” is kind of not simply “need” in the negative as it has a different grammar. Anyway.. before I start to talk about a language that I don’t know completely I’ll just stop here and sum it up.

          müssen – nicht müssen (nicht brauchen works too)

          Oh or maybe it is some regional thing with Austria or Switzerland… but I am sure “Ich muss nicht ” will be understood everywhere as “I do not have to”

          Like

  8. Thanks, that clarifies it! And that supports what my ear tells me, which thinks that, for example, “Ich muss nicht, aber ich will,” sounds perfectly fine.

    Like

  9. I thought it was interesting that you used “already” in this sentamce: I forgot, to tell my boss, that the meeting will start already at 3 tomorrow.

    I have a German friend who uses “already” in cases like that all the time. We wouldn’t say that in English. It is just: I forgot to tell my boss that the meeting will start at 3 tomorrow.

    I’m not sure where “already” comes from in this case, I’m just barely starting to learn German, but figure it must be part if the way it is said in German.

    Anyway, just interesting. Thank you for this post. I enjoyed it.

    Like

    • Hey Wendy, this is interesting.

      By adding schon a German speakers does one of 2 things with this schedule example… either the meeting, which was originally scheduled to be starting at 3 has been “preponed”, or the speaker finds that the meeting is very early, maybe in comparison with the usual meeting times or with his or her personal daily rhythm. So when a German uses already like that, he or she is trying to express something beyond the mere statement.
      Now, how would you express those 2 things in English? Please please help me out so I can purge all Denglish :)

      Like

      • I think you need the future perfect:
        – I forgot to tell my boss that the meeting will already have started at 3 tomorrow.

        or perhaps some kind of future passive:
        – I forgot to tell my boss that the meeting will already be started at 3 tomorrow.

        I don’t think you can generally use “already” with the English simple future tense. It seems to work ok with
        stative verbs: “I will already understand it”, “it will already smell of fish”, etc…

        There you go … Englisch-ist-einfach, kindof-sortof.

        Like

        • Oh English, how I love thee :)…. Thanks for your thoughts!! The first example you gave (will have started) has a different meaning than the original German sentence, but the second one is perfect I think. Sure, it’s passive while German uses active but the meaning is quite the same and so is the length.
          As for the other sentences… I have problems finding a full example because in my head the already-meaning and the skeptikal, doubt dispersing meaning of “schon” fight and I don’t know what to feel. The particle-schon has an edge for me in both sentences. Would this be correct:

          When pull up with your car on the parking lot of the big fish exchange, it will already smell of fish.

          Like

          • That is a little awkward. It would be easier to say, “At the exchange, you can already smell the fish from the parking lot!”
            Or, “At the fish exchange, you can already smell them from the parking lot!”
            But, I think we’d call it a “fish market” in the U.S.

            One note about prepositions — you used “on the parking lot,” which theoretically makes sense, since a parking lot is on the ground, and grammatically, it’s a noun. But we say “in the parking lot,” because as a practical matter, it’s a place. : )

            Like

          • *sigh… the prepositions. It is really a life long struggle and that goes both ways :)

            Like

  10. In english we usually would state that a meeting started early by saying just that. “I forgot to tell my boss that the meeting will start early tomorrow, at 3:00.” The same can be said for expressing that something is starting earlier than normal. “The meeting tomorrow is early, at 3:00″

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  11. Amazing!!!!!! I’ve had 3 teachers try to get this concept into my thick skull with no luck! But you have succeeded! I understand (I think) Thank you!!!!!

    Like

  12. First of all I’d like to say I’ve stumbled upon your blog not so long ago and haven’t stopped reading it since. It’s both funny and helpful, and the actual explanations are surprisingly(?) clearer than anything I’ve come across before. So… congratulations and… keep up the good work!

    Also, I have a question. I’m learning the language on my own so I suppose I might not always learn things in the most common order. I’ve learned wo/da compounds very early on and as a result, I’ve learned to use damit to express “in order to”, as opposed to um..zu constructs. To make it clear to anyone else reading, this is what I mean:

    Er hat das Fenster zugemacht, damit er nicht friert.

    instead of

    Er hat das Fenster zugemacht, um nicht zu frieren.

    I tend to favor the first like… 110% of the time (or more). Is that… weird? :) And am I correct in that both are the same, and as such, always interchangeable? I hear both in movies and such, but there might be a reasoning behind such a choice that is unclear to me.

    Like

    • Hey Bruno thanks for your comment and thanks for the question… I totally left this out because it would have been too loooooong then but it is an issue many people have I guess… so let me try:

      First, there is a grammatical difference between a zu-construction and a damit one … the damit-one does not care about the subject while the zu-construction MUST have the same subject as in it’s boss-sentence… or better… there isn’t a subject at all in a zu-construct so the action is done by the same person or thing that does the preceeding action… sounds complicated but with examples it becomes more understandable:

      – Ich kaufe ein Wörterbuch, damit ich immer alles nachgucken kann.
      – Ich kaufe ein Wörterbuch, damit mein Bruder immer alles nachgucken kann.

      In the first example, I am the subject, in the second it is my brother. The zu-version is only possible for the first sentence.

      – Ich kaufe mir ein Wörterbuch um alles nachgucken zu können.

      For the second one it doesn’t work… not even close.
      So… our first way mark is that a damit-constrcut cannot always be rephrased using a zu-construct because of grammar problems.

      The second point is the content. Damit is a da-word and it means pretty much “with that”. The only weird thing is, that it makes the verb go final but maybe this was just a developement due to heavy use.

      – Ich kaufe ein Auto. Damit kann ich zur Arbeit fahren.
      – Ich kaufe ein Auto, damit ich zur Arbeit fahren kann.

      -I buy a car. With that I can drive to work.
      – I buy a car so that I can drive to work.

      Sure, there is a little difference between the 2 versions but in essence it is the same thing… WITH the stuff I have said, I can do the stuff of the damit-part. That implies that there has to be some kind of “tool” or thing to work with in the first part of the sentence. If there is nothing like that the damit-version becomes weird to the point that it is wrong….

      – Ich gehe in die Küche, um mir ein Bier zu holen.
      – Ich gehe in die Küche, damit ich mir ein Bier hole.

      I am not getting the beer “with” my going to the kitchen. Just …. going to the kitchen is a prerequisite of getting a beer and no more. The damit-sentence is wrong here.

      – Ich mache mir eine Einkaufsliste, um nicht die Hälfte zu vergessen.
      – Ich mache mir eine Einkaufsliste, damit ich nicht die Hälfte vergesse.

      Here, both versions are possible because I have a list “with” which I won’t forget half of the things.
      It is really difficult for me though to find a more general phrasing for when damit doesn’t work. Any phrasing I try doesn’t hold up. So the best I can tell you is this… the more there is something “WITH” which you do the stuff of the damit-sentence, the more the damit sentence makes sense.
      And in the kitchen-beer example it is wrong… I think it also depends on the verb in the damit-part but that is beyond what I can comprehend right now

      – Ich habe ein Auto um zur Arbeit zu fahren… is right
      – Ich habe ein Auto damit ich zur Arbeit fahre… this is nonsense… it means that you go to work because you have a car but it doesn’t imply that you go BY this very car
      This example seems to contradict the whole with-thing but you need to see it like a computer… “when has car, guy will go to work” there is no mention of “by what means” he goes to work

      – Ich habe ein Auto um zur Arbeit fahren zu können …. is right
      – Ich habe ein Auto damit ich zur Arbeit fahren kann…. is right too

      To us humans the content is the same as in the first sentences but a strictly logical analysis shows that it is something different.
      “Guy needs car so as to be able to drive to work”… this makes sense and it does imply that there is maybe no other way to drive to work than by car.
      And now… having written this, I think I just realized one crucial aspect… tense. A damit-sentence will be in a tense (usually present) while the um-zu-construct is in the infinitive or in other words… not specified as to when or how often. The same goes for modal verbs like können. A statement with können just as one with and infinitive is totally unspecific as to when and how often. A damit sentence with a normal verb like kaufen or fahren will be in present tense. This implies some notion of now and once… don’t get me wrong. It doesn’t literally mean that… just there is a clash between the present tense notion of doing one thing now and the general notion of damit/um zu constructs… this makes many sentences with damit and a regular verb sound weird to me.
      So bottom line:

      – Damit is the way to go if the subject changes.
      – It is also fine when the damit-part contains modal verbs like können or müssen.

      – With all the rest, I’d say go for the um-zu version because it is less defined in time and to get the “WITH”-idea you have to think like a computer and it is really really tricky.
      Also, the um-zu version is shorter.

      Wew, this was long and kind of poorly structured but I hope you find it somehow helpful anyway… if there are certain aspects unclear or if I just wrote nonsense please keep asking so we can flesh this out together :)

      Like

      • Wow! Wasn’t expecting such a long answer: had to read it a couple of times to take it all in. :)

        So, as suspected, I have extended the use of damit way beyond its limits. I read about this use of damit (or perhaps misread?), and made the mistake of turning it into a general rule. The fact that dictionaries usually offer translations such as “hence, so that, in order that/to”, in addition to regular damit use (therewith, with it), certainly didn’t help. By “regular damit”, I mean something like:

        Das is mein Auto. Damit fahre ich jeden Morgen in die Stadt.

        As for the other damit, I must say I almost regard it as a different word, which happens to share the same spelling. Perhaps that’s a strange thought to you, but I’ve never seen or heard daran/darauf or any of their siblings used to show purpose, only damit. And the required word order also makes it feel closer to weil, ob and the like:

        Ich stelle den Wecker jetzt früher, damit ich nicht verschlafen kann.

        If I understood you correctly, the above is correct, and so is this:

        Ich stelle den Wecker jetzt früher, um nicht zu verschlafen.
        Ich stelle den Wecker jetzt früher, um nicht verschlafen zu können.

        Optional modal with um..zu, pretty much mandatory with damit. But if I change the subject on the second part of the sentence, then it MUST be damit:

        Ich stelle den Wecker jetzt früher, damit meine Freundin nicht verschlafen kann.

        I’m not sure the alarm clock really conforms to your “something “WITH” which” definition though. And if that’s the case, then how would I be able to rephrase this last example without damit?

        Two extra questions (sorry…):

        .1 – Can I change the order around with both options? Using one of your own examples:

        Damit ich nicht die Hälfte vergesse, mache ich mir eine Einkaufsliste.
        Um nicht die Hälfte zu vergessen, mache ich mir eine Einkaufsliste.

        Are both correct?

        .2 – Can I put two goals/reasons in one sentence only? Like… how would you attach these together?

        Ich gehe heute Abend früher als gestern schlafen
        um am frühen Morgen aufwachen zu können
        um länger träumen zu können

        Long post. Sorry… :(
        And thanks for all your help.

        Like

        • Man, the question is really tough and I ‘m not sure in how far my first explanation was correct. I realized this when I read your new examples… so here it is again:

          Ich stelle den Wecker jetzt früher, damit ich nicht verschlafen kann.

          This doesn’t sound right to me although there is a modal verb. So I thought “Whyyyy”. And then I realized that the um-zu-version wouldn’t sound that great either.

          – Ich… Wecker, damit ich nicht verschlafe…. is fine
          – Ich … Wekcer, um nicht zu verschlafen… is fine

          The um-zu-one is my favorite but the other one works as well here… the modal können sounds weird in either version because it is not really necessary. You don’t want to “be able to not sleep too long”, you just don’t want to “not sleep too long”. So, with a natural modal damit is fine but you can’t just add one to a sentence that you would rather phrase without it just to make damit work :)…. and then why does damit work here? Maybe because having the alarm set earlier is something that is there and with that in place you won’t oversleep.

          – Ich habe einen Wecker gestellt damit ich nicht verschlafe
          – I have an alarm set. With that in place, I can’t oversleep (not a translation, just the sense)

          Let’s compare this with the car-example:

          – Ich habe ein Auto damit ich zur Arbeit fahre.
          – I have a car. With that in place I drive to work.

          I don’t drive to work with the car but with having the car in place (maybe with the car, maybe not)…. kind of… and now with können:

          – Ich habe ein Auto, damit ich zur Arbeit fahren kann.
          – I have a car. With that in place I can drive to work.

          This is more precise. With the car in place I can drive to work. So here, damit works and in the first car-version one it doesn’t. But honestly… I really doubt that this makes sense to anyone but me :)… I just can’t express it, I can’t even fully grasp when to use which.
          So… let me rather move on to the thing I DO know how to say:

          You are right about the subject part… however, können again feels out of place to me:

          – Ich stelle den Wecker, damit meine Freundin nicht verschläft.

          This sounds better to me. You can’t really rephrase that very much but you can use “sodass” instead of “damit”… that works most of the time so maybe this also gives you a hint as to what damit really is.
          It is totally fine to not see it as a da-word in these sentences. Most Germans don’t. The da-word thing is really just where it came from but it does feel like a real words to native speakers too.
          As for the extra questions :

          1) Yes, having the damit-sentence first totally works :D
          2) To add more than one action you can just list them:

          – Ich gehe arbeiten, damit ich Geld verdiene, nicht den ganzen Tag zu Hause sitze und etwas sinnvolles tue.

          The damit spans over all 3 parts. If you have a modal, then the modal can also span

          – Ich lerne Klavier, damit ich Bach spielen und vielleicht etwas Geld nebenbei verdienen kann.

          If you have 2 different modals you need to mention each one. But then you should also say the damit again (sounds weird without)

          – Ich lerne Klavier, damit ich Bach spielen kann und damit ich musikalischer werde.

          But this sentence is not very nice and I would recommend going for um-zu if possible :)

          Like

  13. Thanks for your reply.

    I only added the modal in the alarm example because of your previous reply, otherwise I wouldn’t have, as the modal doesn’t really add anything new to what is being said. In other words, it’s redundant, and I’m happy I can do without it when that’s the case.

    As for the car example, you’re right: that distinction makes no sense to me. :) Don’t get me wrong though: I’ve understood your explanation of it, but it’s a subtle distinction to make. After all, if you go by car, by tram, by any vehicle, then you go mit dem Auto, mit der Straßenbahn, etc, or as some would say… damit. :) Perhaps it is because that expression uses mit that I overlap 2 different damit’s in my head, when there’s in fact only 1 there. But I digress… In any case, I’m now very aware of this issue, and whenever doubt arises, I can just go with um..zu instead, and the problem solves itself.

    And as for everything else, your insight was, as usual, clear as water.

    Thank you so much for both your time and patience.

    Like

    • I’ve just thought that you could ask this question on a well looking well maintained discussion board for the German language…

      http://www.german.stackexchange.com

      I have searched a bit and there is some stuff with regards to um zu and zu but nothing really about when to use damit and when um zu … you can ask in German or in English and you can log in with several different accounts (Google, Facebook, WordPress,..) so maybe some of those people can think of an answer that I missed out on :)

      Like

      • I know about StackExchange: I’ve been using it (for non-language questions mostly) since there is one. Well… maybe not that far back, but for some 3/4 years for sure. But thanks for the suggestion.

        I must say I hope you’re not concerned that I didn’t quite get what is but a small detail. Trust me, I got more than I bargained for with your answers, and I mean that in the most positive way possible. But I’m not going to dig deeper regarding this, as I’m convinced that, like many other language details, sometimes one just needs to get the feel of it. Also, although perhaps not even you are infallible, I’m fairly certain that if there was some sort of rule for this, you would’ve mentioned it. After all, that’s why I read your blog! :)

        Thanks once again. Now, off to read your latest WOTD… :)

        Like

  14. “Son, you MUST turn off the stove of evil or the kingdom of the elves is doomed.”
    “But … but … how, I am just a normal farm boy after all, how could I possibly turn it off?”
    “Ignorance, son, ignorance! You must learn to forget if you want to turn off this stove!”

    Just a feedback, you make it fun to study, this part made me laugh for a week. and I guess I’ll never forget how to use , um… zu and zu.
    Now I visit the site everyday, thank you for all your effort!

    Like

    • Freut mich wahnsinnig, das zu hören :D… thanks for such nice words!!

      Like

      • Wow this article is really great! Nur eine Frage,

        Du solltest es auf Deutsch sagen, um er es nicht zu verstehen.
        Du solltest es auf Deutsch sagen, sodass er es nicht versteht.
        are they both right, neither??
        Danke im Voraus

        Like

        • Only the second one is correct because you’re switching subjects.

          – Du solltest …, … er nicht versteht.

          “Du” in the first part, “er” in the second part. The version with “um” does not work at all and that would be a major mistake…. like … huuuuuge… it really sticks out :)

          Like

  15. “BTW… I am not 100% sure what “Thomas is driving too fast to read the license plate” means in English… maybe it just means the second version… then I would need to change the article actually :)” remember, you said that like 15 years ago lol. it means that he’s driving so fast that HE cant read a licesence plate. Maybe someone elses, maybe his own, thats not really a good scentance. The secentance you wanted was “Thomas ist driving so fast, that otherpeople couldnt read his License plate. A passive sentance like “Thomas is driving too fast, for the liscence plate to be read” ist correct but reaaaaaly wierd.
    Ohh, and about 47 years ago you wrote a blog about the word “los” where you used a senctance “Auf die Plaetze, fertig, los!” and your english translation was a little off, you wanted “on your marks, get set, go!” If I find anymore I’ll post them in random places on your website at random times:).
    theres a few mistakes, but a great website trotzdem!

    Like

    • Hehe… yeah… the whole sentence was really more to make a point which I have now forgotten. I think my point was that German “um zu” is more vague than English “in order to”… but as you said… it’s been a while :D. As for the los-article (that was actually 48 years ago)… is there a difference between “ready, steady, go” and your suggestion? I mean, of course yours is more literal, but is it also used in sports or the like?
      Thanks for the corrections… they are always welcome… especially at random places :D

      Like

  16. I’m still getting myself a bit confused I think.

    For example, the sentence “I’m learning to speak German” I realise can be said simply “Ich lerne, Deutsch zu sprechen” but then I feel I could also phrase it as I’m learning, in order to speak German (because you’re describing why you’re learning)

    Another confusing example for me is:
    “I’m calling to invite you to the party” which I could also concede to be “I’m calling, in order to invite you to the party” but my confusion is, if you’re using the walking into a room example and saying I’m calling…it would appear to be just a “zu” construction because it would be confusing to just say I’m calling……calling who/why?!
    so is it:
    Ich rufe an, dich zur Party einzuladen or
    Ich rufe an, um dich zur Party einzuladen?

    Both those sentences seem to me at least, to have the subordinate clause describing an aim or a purpose and hence would need some form of um…zu?

    Danke im Voraus!

    Like

    • Those are really good questions but I think I can clear it up :)… so

      – I am learning to speak German.

      There are indeed both ways possible to translate it:

      – Ich lerne, um Deutsch zusprechen.
      – Ich lerne, Deutsch zu sprechen.

      The difference is that in the first version we do not actually say WHAT we learn or study. We just learn something in order to speak German. Could be vocab or grammar or declension… we don’t say it. The um zu sentence answers to “why?” while the zu-sentence answers to “what?”… I probably should add that to the post as it is always valid I think :)… anyway

      As for the second one… you’re right. It would be confusing. Actually a lot of sentences would. It only works if the who? is answered by context but based on that logic also “I’m trying” would work as long as we know what you’re trying. In German this is a little different as you cannot juts “versuchen”… you can only “versuchen es” but anyway… you can just “anrufen”. So you definitely have a point there and the party idea is actually not that great, I guess.
      But with the question-check we can make sense of it:

      – I am calling to invite you to the party.

      The “to invite you” part answers to “why?” and not to “who?” or “what?”… and hence it must be “um zu”… I think a few centuries back the rules weren’t as strict. People would say things like:

      – Ich komme, dich zu sehen.

      which should clearly be “um dich zu sehen” today, as it answers to “why?”. So if you ever read some older German novel or something… don’t get confused.
      I hope that helped and thanks for bringing this up … there is always a better way to put things :).

      Like

  17. guten Abend,

    this may be too Deutschkurs 101 but i’m confused!! with the um…zu construction, what determines dativ or accusativ? um mir ein Bier zu holen, um dich anzurufen. Danke viel Mals!!

    Like

    • Hey Amanda,

      this depends solely on the verb and the action…

      – Ich hole mir ein Bier.

      “mir” is indirect object here.

      – Ich rufe dich an.

      “dich” is the direct object.
      Hope that helps a bit :)

      Like

  18. Hi,

    Thank you very much for all your posts, they have been really useful to me.

    I’ve seen constructions like “Man braucht viel geld zum Reisen”, how should/may I use this ‘zum’? May I use every verb as a noun?

    Thank you in advance.

    Like

    • Oh that’s a good question… in theory a lot is possible…

      – Ich gehen zum Holen eines Bieres in die Küche.

      But as soon as there’s a dative or some additional information it gets really weird and eventually wrong

      – Ich gehe zum mir Holen eines Bieres… neeeee

      – Ich gehe zum aus dem Kühlschrank, den ich gekauft habe, Holens eines Bieres … ne ne ne ne neeeee

      But for very short things like your example it works. Anyway, I think using “um.. zu…” is the better choice in many occasions since spoken German loves verbs and doesn’t like nouns that much… verbs that have been nounified, I mean. It is a structural thing. Germans are used to having a verb final and turning that into a noun changes that into some random prepositional element. It feels a little truncated and stiff.
      But in the example you gave both versions are equally fine I think…
      Hope that helps :)

      Like

      • Of course that helps!
        Thank you very much.
        Greetings from Colombia.

        Like

      • Hi,

        I love your descriptions so much. You truly make rather difficult concepts for a lerner a lot clearer, thank you!
        I’ve just come across in my readings (I work full time so I have to learn a lot by myself with the odd evening class to try to move to Europe next year!) but I’ve recently come across the verb genesen and got confused. I had been using erholen, but now I have the suspicion it’s something to do with relaxing? and not actually recovering from an illness?

        So if my relative was sick and I wanted to ask if he has recovered yet, would I say:
        Ist er schon gegenesen? or Ich hoffe, dass er gegenesen ist!

        but then how would I use erholen?
        and is genesen also for something very serious like recovering from cancer? It feels like its more for say eine Erkältung!

        Vielen Dank im Voraus!

        Like

  19. André Rhine-Davis

    Wow, this blog is so cool ^_^
    I just started to learn German for a bit now on Duolingo, and I’m still very much a beginner. But I’m a huge fan of linguistics and grammar and stuff so I read up all about cases and declensions and stuff pretty much as I started :P. I’m love grammar in general, and etymology, and Old English, and I love looking up Old English words and grammar and all the words that used to be in English (or are still in English!) that correspond to words in German.

    Anyway, I just found this blog while googling how to express the concept “in order to” in German. It was very insightful and funny! I love how you explain things :).

    I had no idea that zu was even used to make infinitives like English to… I guess as a beginner, every catenative verb I’ve come across so far as been a modal verb… mögen, können, werden… so I had thought that you just strung infinitives together, that a sentence like “I need to try to help him sleep” would be something like “Ich brauche ihm schlafen helfen versuchen”. I’m sure I have seen people speak of German sentences ending in these “strings of verbs”. But the way you handled the sentence “It would be nice to be able to call you to ask you to come by”, by segmenting it with commas, filling in each verb with its appropriate pronouns… it was a lot easier to follow than if you had said some nightmare like “Es wäre schön dich dich vorbeikommen bitten anrufen können”, which I had previously imagined one would have to say! o.O :P

    Vielen Dank! ^_^

    Like

    • Oooooh… don’t worry, those long chains you’ve heard about do exist

      – Ich habe als Kind nicht Klavier spielen gelernt, weil ich dafür zunächst hätte Klavier spielen lernen wollen müssen.

      – I haven’t learned playing the piano when I was a kid, because for that I would have had to have wanted to learn it in the first place.

      It is a little contrived though ;)… thanks a lot for your nice feedback by the way

      Like

  20. Thanks an awful lot for this. I’m still looking forward to your forthcoming book. Yes, you do have a forthcoming book, pretty please. Oh, and is möchten really a verb? I was taught that it was the subjunctive of mögen.

    Like

    • Just noticed that in French,     vs zu vs um zu really is a no brainer, as we have similar constructions. French « pour + inf. + compl. » is »um + compl. + zu + inf.«. I read the whole lesson before realizing that, however… damn those entertaining lessons where your mind can’t wander mid-reading.

      Like

      • Ha yeah, that’s true… I remember that from my learning French and this went smoothly right from the start. Also, I very much like the way using “pour”(für/for)… it just makes a lot of sense… “um”… well.. once you know that “um” is used to talk about topics I guess. By the way… a mind that’s not wandering while it reads stuff online. That sounds almost impossible so thanks for this nice compliment :D

        Like

    • The book… yeah… I am working on that but it’ll take time because I want to make it something more than just a collection of articles from the page… or should I say … I möchte to do that :)
      As a matter of fact “möchten” is indeed the subjunctive of “mögen” but it has evolved into verb of its own. Many German native speakers are not aware of the connection. However, it kind of shows in the fact that “möchten” lacks past forms…

      Ich mochte..

      is past of “mögen” and so is

      Ich habe gemocht…

      so in past people use “wollen” without ever asking why. But honestly.. I think möchten deserves a past by now. It is time people start saying

      Gestern möchtete ich nur schlafen.

      ;)

      Like

      • André Rhine-Davis

        Fascinating…….
        That is precisely what happened in English, where originally “would” was the past tense of “will”, “could” was the past tense of “can”, “should” was the past tense of “shall”, “might” was the past tense of “may”, etc…
        And then they split off and became separate verbs of their own.
        Now all of the above verbs are “defective”, in that they don’t have true past tense forms of their own, but they can still be given a past sense using a perfect construction:
        I may do it
        I may have done it
        I might do it
        I might have done it

        Like

      • Ah! So you do have a book in the making! Great great news :-) By the way, I’ve been meaning to read your articles on an exhaustive basis — my anal-retentive side probably — hence I wanted to create a collage of all your articles in PDF form, for offline reading on my tablet. It seems that WordPress is kind of peaky on who can make this sort of collection, and the tools to do so are mainly plugin-based (http://www.blogbooker.com/wordpress.php being an exception, but it requires the XML of the blog). For the impatient, do you think you can make such a PDF available?

        Oh, and as you recommended on some other post, I bought the Surfpoeten and Die 101 wichtigsten Fragen: Die deutsche Sprache; I’ll give you my feedback on that when I’ll be able to finish them. Considering my level, I’d say a year — though I’m moving to Tübingen in a couple of weeks, so who knows? :-)

        Mit freundlichen Grüßen,
        Michaël

        Like

        • I finally took the time to gather all your articles in a PDF using a few scripts, and… not to frighten you or anything, but it reached 1000 pages. Um Gottes willen, 1000 Seiten! Good luck for putting all that in a real book :-)
          Best regards;
          M.

          Like

          • Oh my goodness … that’s a lot. But it does include comments, doesn’t it? Glückwunsch to your workaround :). I don’t know how hard it is to compile that off of the page but if you had to use “a few scripts” then it is well deserved :D. I had to think about your question for a while actually. A part of me didn’t really want to do it (make pdf available) because I want to create a book/books from it and it’s nice for me to see that there is traffic on the page and so on. But then again, everything is up and free anyway, and I wouldn’t want it any other way… so why not pdf… and then I had an idea. I don’t know if it is gonna work but I’ll give it a try so vielen Dank für die Inspiration. By the way… doesn’t that pdf you made take ages to load :D?

            Like

  21. Fascinating article. I always wondered an equivalent of “to” in German. You explained it for me. But there ‘s some parts I cant understand here. I have always been taught that “um” always goes with accusative. So it must be “um mich ein Bier zu holen” right ? Or am I wrong or this is an exception ?

    Anyway there are a few errors in spelling here. And in the near-the-top example :


    I call my brother with my phone, which I have bought 2 months ago. ”

    You shouldnt use present perfect here because it doesnt go with a specific time in the past. ( except with “since”). So ” I call my brother with my phone, which i bought 2 months ago” would be correct. I hope you could fix those. :)

    Like

    • Well, you got it right. The preposition “um” always needs accusative but this “um” is not a preposition :)… it is a subordinating conjunction (intro-word) that introduces a full side sentence… just like “dass” or “weil”… only that it has an infinitive in it. So… it has no influence on the cases. Only the verb does and in that case the verb is “holen”

      I fetch something for me.

      We have the standard subject, object receiver scheme and that’s why it has to be “mir”. Hope that made sense.
      Thanks for the errors by the way… I corrected them :)

      Like

  22. very well explained. and refreshing with the nice jokes and imaginitive parts. thanks :)

    Like

  23. Great article, really loved the complicated example with 4 “to”s. It really covered all the variations when using zu-constructs.

    Like

  24. Hi!

    Somewhere I got the explanation that with “um zu”, it answers why? and with just zu, it answers “what”. For example, ich gehe dorthin, (why?) um ein Auto zu kaufen.
    Can you please explain why it’s “um zu” with the following sentence?

    “Es ist wirklich nicht warm genug, um auf der Veranda zu sitzen”

    I thought it would be a “what?” question. As in, it’s not warm enough to do what? It’s doesn’t feel like a sentence where I’d be able to use “in order to”…

    Danke im Voraus!

    Like

    • Well, this “why?” vs “what?” thing, just like “in order to”, is a rule of thumb can help in many cases but it doesn’t cover everything. So let’s look at this:

      – I try to sleep.
      – I try the cake.

      Here, I can ask “what?” and it can be both, asking for a thing or an activity (like “to do what?”)

      – It is not hot enough.

      Here, the only thing I can ask is “to do what?”. You can only have an activity here, not a thing.

      – It is not hot enough cake. :)

      So… the “what?”-question is really a “what”-question. “to do what” is not part of the rule, so to speak. It can’t help you make the decision. Now, about the “why?”.
      This certainly doesn’t work here and the reason is that we have no real subject… just an generic “es” in the first part and an implied “man” in the second.
      Now, “in order to” has the same problem pretty much. No real subject means no intent. But that’s where you can use the party-approach maybe…

      – It’s really not warm enough.

      That is a statement on it’s own. Hence, “um zu”…
      Hope that helps a bit :)

      Like

  25. Hello! I’m here to thank you! these articles are amazing… they are way better than my german teachers (for real). Reading this article I felt really excited when I read the part of “Being bored I call my brother with my phone”, because I’ve always wanted an explanation on how to translate that, but then I saw nothing about it here. Is there any post on that topic?

    Like

    • Nah not yet, and I think a post “how to translate the -ing” form might be pretty enormous. The ing-form is just so freaking versatile.. Anyway… I might do it someday.
      As for this one example… I think you would say

      – Aus Langeweile…

      but that can absolutely not be generalized.

      Liked by 1 person

  26. German Newbie

    Hallo Emanuel, this post was pretty interesting like almost all your posts. Thank you for the detailed explanations. I was wondering how does the infinitive form (zu+infinitv) work with a Weil or Temporalnebensätze. What would be the position of zu+Infinitiv in such sentences and where should one put the conjugated or the finite verb.

    Weil es ist zu schwer zu studieren.
    Weil es zu schwer zu studieren ist.
    Weil es zu schwer ist zu studieren.

    Thanks in advance !

    Like

    • So the first step is to think of it as two activities… a) “being to difficult” and b) “studying”. A) is in a weil-sentence so the verb needs to be at the end:

      – weil es zu schwer ist

      b) is in a very short zu-construct so the verb is also at the end

      – zu studieren

      Those are the structures of the parts. Now we have to fit in b) into a). There are several options and they do not all have the same meaning. And the key is the role of “es”. “Es” can either be a genetic “it”

      – It is difficult to study in such hot weather. (just a general statement, “it” stands for studying)

      or “it” can stand in for something else.

      – I don’t like German because it is difficult to study.

      Now let’s look at the German options

      – – weil zu studieren zu schwer ist.

      here, I replaced “it” be “zu studieren” so the sentence means

      – because studying is too difficult

      Next:

      – weil es zu schwer zu studieren ist.

      This sounds very much like “es” refers to a topic… for instance German. Translation:

      – because it (German) is too hard to study)

      Finally, we have this:

      – weil es zu schwer, zu studieren.

      This sounds a lot like studying in general is too hard, so it is kind of the same as the first example. But this phrasing is much more common.
      Phew… I hope this wasn’t too confusing :)

      Liked by 1 person

      • German Newbie

        I am so grateful for your explanation :) “So weil es zu schwer ist, zu studieren” is for the general kind. I am now very clear about my example :D
        I probably messed up my question by putting es as subject. What I was wondering was if there is any fixed rule for position of zu infinitives and conjugated verbs. Because the more Germans I am asking about it more I am getting confused and they include my German teachers ;) – one said zu + infinitiv steht am Ende and other said das konjugierte Verb steht am Ende, and my German classmate told that both forms are used by people, but thinks that the one with conjugated form should be placed at the end. I pondered through the copy of Hammer’s and while in one page it says that zu infinitiv should be kept out of verb positioning bracket and so had an example for zu + infinitiv at the end of sentence; in another example in some other context they had put the conjugated verb at the end. Any thoughts or opinion ? :)

        Like

        • Well, there are two tendencies clashing, kind of. The first one is the “verb at the end” -thing. This is very strong. The second one however is “don’t nest different activities unless you have to”.. this is not as strong but the shorter and more basic the sentences are the more people stick to it, in spoken.

          – Ich habe, weil ich Hunger hatte, gegessen.
          – Ich habe gegessen, weil ich Hunger hatte.

          – Ich habe dich anzurufen versucht.
          – Ich habe versucht, dich anzurufen.

          Both versions are correct, the first one follows “verb final” but the activity “calling” is nested in the sentence that has the activity “trying” (or the “having” in the “eating” respectively).
          200 or 300 years ago the nested version would have been great, but today it sounds odd and people would go with the second version. In theory, the zu-clause is just a what-box in the sentence so it can be put wherever a what-box can go

          – Dich anzurufen habe ich 3 mal versucht.
          – Ich habe dich anzurufen 3 mal versucht (odd)

          So… the shorter the sentence the worse it sounds to “nest” activities (zu-clause or not)

          Liked by 1 person

          • but then could one also say “ich habe 3 mal versucht, dich anzurufen”?

            Like

          • Yeah totally… I forgot that because I had the structure earlier already … just without the 3 mal. This is BY FAR the most common to say it :)

            Like

          • How would it work with a modal verb and a zu clause, then? I’ve googled several times now and still can’t seem to find an answer :(

            For example:

            Ich habe dir am Freitag diese zwei Texte zu schicken nicht vergessen sollen.
            Ich habe dir am Freitag nicht vergessen sollen, diese zwei Texte zu schicken.

            Which one is correct? Or is there a more authentic (and not so Engleutsch) way to phrase something like this? (Such as the use of “Ich möchte, dass du dieses Buch liest” over “Ich möchte für dich dieses Buch zu lesen”, which is somewhat of a literal English translation into German.)

            Thank you for this blog, by the way. It’s helped me a lot with my German!

            Like

          • Hmm… can you give me the English version of what you’re trying to say? The German sentences don’t make any sense to me, unfortunately. I think there’s an issue with conditional or something but I don’t want to just wildly guess :)

            Like

          • Oh dear, my poor German strikes again (and of course I managed to type the wrong thing for the second sentence!). :) The English would be “I shouldn’t have forgotten to send you the two texts on Friday.”

            Like

          • Ah, I see :)… so the right way is

            – Ich hätte nicht vergessen sollen, dir am Freitag die beiden Texte zu schicken.

            Essentially , we’re talking about two activities… forgetting and sending. A simple sentence would be this

            – Ich vergesse, dir die Mail zu schicken.
            – I forget to send you the mail.

            Now we’re modifying the “forgetting”. Quite a bit. We put it in past, add a negation and a conditional but it’s all about “vergessen”. The sending-clause is just the “what”-box and isn’t affected by any of that.

            – Ich vergesse [etwas].
            – Ich hätte [etwas] nicht vergessen sollen.

            Etwas can be an object (for example my phone) or an activity. The only difference is that if it is an activity it gets put after the main sentence, not somewhere in between. In between would be correct too, but not idiomatic, not easy to understand and certainly not easy to build.
            So your second try was much better but the attempt at “shouldn’t have done” was so far off that it was hard to understand. Hope that helps

            Like

          • That helps a lot, thank you! And now I want to ask…why “hätte” and not “habe”? I don’t understand why it should be in Konjunktiv, since in my mind the English is in simple past tense and is not subjunctive (though perhaps that’s where I’m wrong!).

            Like

          • Oh the good old conditional. The thing is that it is not just simple past. It is a conditional statement and because it is in the past it cannot be reality anymore.
            Here without a modal verb:

            – Ich vergesse…. present
            – Ich habe vergessen … past
            – Ich hätte vergessen… past conditional

            and once again with a modal verb:

            – Ich soll vergessen…. (I’m told to forget)
            – Ich sollte vergessen .. (I was told to forget/I should forget)… past or conditional, not clear
            – Ich habe vergessen sollen… (I was told to forget) past, clear
            – Ich hätte vergessen sollen… past conditional

            I don’t know why it looks like a simple past to you. The form “should” itself can be either, that is true. Or maybe you’re looking at “have forgotten”, which by itself is a present prefect. But you need to look at the whole thing and see what it conveys. And in this case it conveys something from the realm of fiction. So we need conditional. Hope that helps.

            Like

          • I think I’ve got it, yes! Thank you very much! :)

            Like

  27. German Newbie

    Thank you so much :)

    Like

  28. I’ve used different language course and I have a question. In one, one of the first basic phrases is ich will etwas trinken, while the other says ich will etwas zu trinken. What’s the difference?

    Like

  29. Its vry usefull nd i likd d way u hav been teaching ……really appreciable…ty it has helped mi alot….

    Like

  30. What about ‘Die Haushaltgeräte sind zu schwer, ??? heben.’ I’m thinking it should be ‘zu heben’ but ‘die Haushaltgeräte sind zu schwer’ still makes sense on its own.

    Like

    • Very good question! I would say “zu heben” too.

      Technically, both versions are possible though and they do fit in with the “rule” (phew… thank god). The trick is parsing:

      – Der Topf ist zu schwer zu heben.

      Here, the parts are actually:

      – Der Topf ist.
      – zu schwer zu heben.

      The “zu schwer” describes the heaving. We can test that by replacing it with other words.

      – Der Topf ist leicht zu putzen.

      That means that the pot is
      – “easy to clean”… not that the
      – “pot is easy” (in order) to clean.

      If we perceive the description (“zu schwer” or “leicht”) to be connected to “pot”, then we would need “um zu” because the first part is indeed complete.

      – Der Topf ist zu schwer, um ihn zu heben.
      – Der Topf ist leicht, um ihn zu putzen.

      The first version means the same as the version without “zu” but it sounds clunky. The second one means something different than the “zu”-version and it doesn’t really make sense… at least not without some thought.
      So in short… the sentence actually ends after “ist” and all that comes after is the “zu”-construction.

      Hope that helps :)

      Like

  31. I think I found a typo:

    “Ich kann dich arufen”

    Missing an “n” there for what I suspect is “anrufen” :)

    Like

  32. Hello Emmanuel, I am currently studying B1 German in Hanau and have learned about zu and um zu. I must say I was suddenly baffled and wondered why we never used this during A1 or in A2. So after searching through the internet, I found your blog and wow! It was if a fuzzy haze covering my mind was suddenly lifted off. I would like to say thank for explaining the differences on when to use zu, um zu, and nothing in layman’s terms. No jargon or complex explanation and such, it was just direct to the point. Again, thank you. :)

    Like

  33. Hi Emmanuel,

    Ich hab’ erst gelernt, wie man “um … zu”, und “zum / zur” benutzt. Aber ich habe noch ein paar Probleme damit, negative Satze zu machen. Ich meine, daß ich die Nebensätze verneinen kann nicht. Z.b., könntest du diesen satz bitte noch ma mit „zum / zur“ statt “um … zu” machen?

    Beispiel: Man muss nachts warme Kleidun tragen, um nicht zu frieren.

    Welche ist richtig?

    1) Zum nicht Frieren muss man … .
    2) Nicht zum Frieren muss man … .
    3) Zum Frieren nicht muss man … .

    Ich bedanke mich bei dir noch einmal. :)

    Marco

    Like

    • Gute Frage. Also:

      1. und 2. sind beide richtig, aber nur 1. gibt den Sinn der “um… zu”-Version wieder.
      Um zu verstehen, warum, hilft es, sich eine Frage anzugucken.

      – Was willst du?

      Die Antwort kann ein Ding sein, aber auch eine Tätigkeit.

      – Ich will schlafen.

      oder

      – Ich will nicht schlafen.

      oder

      – Ich will nicht frieren.

      Das, was ich will, ist also der Block “nicht frieren”. Und den macht man quasi zu einem Nomen, wenn man ein “zu” davor stellt

      – zum Schlafen
      – zum nicht Frieren

      Von der Perspektive von “zu” ist es egal was genau da steht. Das kann auch sehr lang sein

      – zum [von Berlin nach München Fahren]

      Allerdings sind diese Konstruktionen, wenn mehr als ein Wort (das Verb selbst) involviert sind, ziemlich umgangssprachlich. Vor allem auch deswegen, da keiner weiß, wie man das denn schreiben soll

      – zum Lattemitsojamilchtrinken
      – zum “Latte mit Sojamilch”-trinken
      – zum “…”-Trinken

      Es gibt keinen Konsens (und wird es auch nie geben). Also… “Zum nicht Frieren” ist richtig, funktioniert aber nur beim Sprechen und klingt eh ein bisschen kantig. Mit Verb ist besser.

      Ach so… das “nicht” in Version 2 bezieht sich auf die zum-Box insgesamt.

      – Nicht zum Kochen brauche ich die Sahne sondern für den Kaffee.

      Hoffe, das hilft

      Like

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