Easy Learning German

The infinitive - Easy Learning Grammar German

What is the infinitive?
The infinitive is the ‘to’ form of the verb, for example, to go, and is the form you look up in a dictionary. It is the -en form of the verb in German.
Using the infinitive
  • zu is used with the infinitive:
  • after other verbs
Ich versuchte zu kommen.I tried to come.
  • after adjectives
Es war leicht zu sehen.It was easy to see.
Es ist schwierig zu verstehen.It’s hard to understand.
  • after nouns
Ich habe keine Zeit, Sport zu treiben.I don’t have the time to do any sport.
Ich habe keine Lust, meine Hausaufgaben zu machen.I don’t want to do my homework.
  • The infinitive is used without zu after the following:
  • modal verbs, such as können (meaning to be able, can)
Sie kann gut schwimmen.She can swim very well.
TipThe English –ing form is often translated by the German infinitive, as shown in some of the examples below.
  • the verbs lassen (meaning to stop, to leave), bleiben (meaning to stay) and gehen (meaning to go)
Sie ließen uns warten.They kept us waiting.
Sie blieb sitzen.She remained seated.
Er ging einkaufen.He went shopping.
  • verbs of perception such as hören (meaning to hear, to listen (to)) and sehen (meaning to see, to watch)
Ich sah ihn kommen.I saw him coming.
Er hörte sie singen.He heard her singing.
  • The infinitive can be used to give an order or instruction.
Bitte nicht in diesen Zug einsteigen!Please don’t board this train!
  • It can also be used as a noun with a capital letter. It is always neuter.
rauchen = to smoke
Sie hat das Rauchen aufgegeben.She’s given up smoking.
Key points
  • The infinitive is the ‘to’ form of the verb, the one you look up in a dictionary.
  • zu is used with the infinitive after other verbs, adjectives and nouns.
  • The infinitive is used WITHOUT zu after certain verbs, mostly modal verbs.
  • The infinitive can be used to give an order or instruction.
  • It can be used as a noun with a capital letter and is always neuter.

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