“einkaufen gehen” – why is there no “zu”

 

Hello everyone,

and welcome back to your weekly fix of German – the good, strong stuff. And today, I actually got a nice little dose of grammar for you, because we’ll take a look at:

Wit-no-Zouz

Now you’re like “Wit-no-zouz? What is that? I have never heard that before.”
Well, that’s no wonder, because Wit-no-zouz is a really advanced linguistic concept that you usually only come across when you’re at absolute the cutting edge of linguistic research. Which is where I am and I’m gonna share some of that
“Yeah yeah, come on Emanuel, you made it up, right?”
Uh… yup. I made it up. It’s short for

Why is there no zu or um zu?”

and I didn’t really know how else to call it. I think the official name is free final infinitive or something, but I like my name better.
Because it is what pretty much all learners ask themselves at some point, usually after learning about zu and um zu.
We’ve briefly touched on it in the article about the use of zu and um zu, and there are many comments about it scattered throughout the site, but I figured it’s definitely worth a proper look, so let’s dive right in :)

So, the thing that has many learners confused at some point are sentences like this one:

  • Ich gehe in den Park Yoga machen.
  • I go to the park to do Yoga.

And what usually confuses learners about this is if I am actually really doing Yoga. And the second question people ask themselves is why there isn’t at least a zu in there.

  • Ich gehe in den Park Yoga zu machen… why wrong?!

And it’s a good question because the rule (book 3, chapter 47, rule 77 b II, section 12.1) says that, just like in English, only modal verbs connect their second verb directly, while the rest needs to or in German, zu or um zu.

  • I can sleep.
  • Ich kann schlafen.
  • I‘m trying to sleep.
  • Ich versuche zu schlafen.

So what gives, with the yoga example? Gehen isn’t a modal verb and yet there’s no zu. Is that just the inevitable exception to the rule?
And the answer is of course yes. Technically, it is an exception.
But it’s not a glitchy phrasing that just happened to be idiomatic. There’s actually a system there.

The question that matters

Take these two sentences:

  1. Thomas goes to the bar.
  2. Thomas quickly goes after work, because he is thirsty.

The second one, on the surface, should have more value, because we get three pieces of information about the going: the why and the how AND the when. And yet, it sounds odd and incomplete, while the first one, even though it only contains one piece of information, feels good and rounded.
And the reason is that the first one contains the “most interesting” or “most defining” piece of information for to go – the “where?”.
And for to go the connection is pretty strong, so if we don’t have this bit of info, at least implicitly, the sentence feels weird.
Now, if you’ve read my article on “zu” and “um zu” (link below), you might remember that the zu-element generally gives an answer to “what?”.

  • WAS versuchst du?”
    “Ich versuche zu schlafen.”
  • WHAT are you trying to do?”
    “I’m trying to sleep.”

And now based on what we’ve just learned… is a zu-element the first choice to give information about gehen?

The answer is of course no!
Because the verb gehen strongly needs a “where”, while a zu-element gives us a “what?”. In fact, a what-element doesn’t really match up with gehen at all. You can simply try it in English by actually making a question:

  • What are you going?

That’s not a proper question!
It would work fine with where and when and how and why and with whom and many other questions… but asking what makes no sense.
So you see that a zu-element is not only not the first choice… it’s actually not really a choice at all.
Now let’s take the example from the beginning again.

  • Ich gehe in den Park Yoga machen.

We now know why a zu would be wrong here and that it’s actually a quite fundamental reason, not just some random “Yeah, because languages are weird”-thing.
But that’s only half the story. I mean, the where? in that example is the park. So what function does the Yoga machen have?

Yes, verbs are locations now

Well, doing yoga is the REASON for my going to the park – the purpose or the why.
So it would actually be a candidate for an um-zu-construction because those generally give us a purpose, a why.

  • Ich gehe in den Park, um Yoga zu machen.
    [who] goes [where] [for what/why]

And that is a perfectly fine, idiomatic construction.
But it also sounds a tiny little bit stiff.
Instead, what happens is that German tends to use the activity, the verb directly as a sort of pseudo-where.

  • Ich gehe [in den Park] Yoga machen.

If we do say the park bit, then the activity is just kind of an add on, but we can actually leave it out. Then, the Yoga machen gives us the where? that’s so important for the verb gehen.
An activity as a location… sounds weird but it actually also works in English:

  • Wo gehst du hin?”
    Yoga machen.”
  • Where are you going?”
    “Doing Yoga.”

And it doesn’t only work for to go.

  • Where were you last night?!”
    “Uh… Doing Yoga. Acro-Yoga….”

When Maria asks Thomas where he was, she wouldn’t be satisfied if he just shared a location pin in Google maps, because what she REALLY wants to know is what he did.
You see, talking about our whereabouts in terms of what we did makes perfect sense.
English tends to use its -ing-forms for that purpose and in German… well, THAT’S what the Wit-no-Zouz phrasings are for – those phrasings that make you wonder why is there no zu or um zu :)

  • Ich gehe einkaufen.
  • I’m going shopping/doing groceries.
  • Ich bin ein paar Bier trinken gegangen.
  • I went to have a couple of beers.
  • Ich finde es beeindruckend, dass Maria viermal in der Woche trainieren geht.
  • I find it impressive that Maria goes to the gym four times a week.
  • Ich war gestern im Park laufen.
  • I was for a run at the park yesterday.
  • Ich komme dich besuchen.
  • I’ll come visit you.

Phrasings like these are incredibly common in German, primarily with the verbs gehen and sein but you can also find them for kommen and fahren.
And I hope you could see that it’s not just a random grammar glitch or colloquial laziness, but that it actually makes a lot of sense that they DON’T have zu.
Of course you can also think of the whole thing as “just” an exception, but I’d really recommend thinking about it as a distinct category…. verbs used as the where?.

Either way, I hope I could shed some light on the matter and also give you some little insights into the inner workings of language.
As always, if you want to check how much you remember, you can take the little quizz I have prepared for you. And of course, if you have any questions about this just leave me a comment.
I hope you liked it and see you next time.

 

Further reading:

 

 

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Carrie
Carrie
8 months ago

I’m a bit confused.

You can use zu as a preposition for people occasions or activities, but here we are saying we don’t use zu with gehen, fahren etc.

Doesn’t that contradict? Why wouldn’t it be ‘ich gehe zum einkaufen’ because einkaufen is an activity?

Anonymous
Anonymous
8 months ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Thanks for the reply. That makes sense. :-)

dmirylenka
dmirylenka
11 months ago

Maaaan, that’s gold. The constructs like “Ich war spazieren” have puzzled me a lot. No one could tell me what was going on there. Thanks a lot!

jfmoran
jfmoran
11 months ago

You seem not to pronounce the ‘en’ on gegangen. is this on purpose or my sound system?
John

Stanzie
Stanzie
1 year ago

I wish all teachers would explain the way you do!!!! I learn more with you than in any of my class!!!!

fairyhedgehog
fairyhedgehog
1 year ago

That’s a really helpful way of looking at when to drop the “zu”.

Just a few comments on the English translations.

“Wo gehst du hin?” “Yoga machen.” In English would be “Where are you going?” “To do Yoga”.

And in English it might sound a bit like there’s a “zu” there but you could understand it as part of the infinitive. You can’t actually say “I’m going doing Yoga” in English, it has to be “I’m going to do Yoga”.

“I’m going shopping” is fine. “I’m going to get/buy groceries works” but “doing groceries” is using the wrong form of the wrong verb.

It is “I went for a run at the park yesterday” (not “I was for a run yesterday”)

A really useful article, thank you!

JamieMiller
JamieMiller
11 months ago
Reply to  fairyhedgehog

Well, I don’t think Emanuel ever implied that “I’m going doing Yoga” was an option (unless the article was edited before I read it). I think the short response of “Doing yoga” works well enough, as it’s short for “I’m doing yoga”, exactly the sort of non-literal answer to “where are you going?” that Emanuel was talking about, albeit sounding a little curt or dismissive, perhaps the way a teenager would answer their mother as they walk out the door.

Your alternative of “To do Yoga” definitely works, but the fuller response of “I’m going to do Yoga” is actually kinda funny, because it’s unclear if “going” is the literal motion, or simply a future-tense construction (z.B., the “going” in “I’m going to be late”). The fact that we have both uses of “going” produces fun phrases like “I’m going to go” lol, or even better: “I’m going to be going soon”.

Which brings up the colloquialism of “gonna” for “going to”, which can ONLY substitute the temporal/future “going”, not the physical action:

Wrong: “I’m gonna the store”
Right: “I’m gonna GO to the store”.

But “gonna do Yoga” is also a plausible answer to “where are you going?”. So answers with both the physical “going” and the future-tense “going” are possible.

The other things you flagged were all valid corrections.

asdfdfdfafgs
asdfdfdfafgs
1 year ago

sdf

alexlloyd
alexlloyd
1 year ago

“I was for a run at the park yesterday.”

doesn’t really sound right in English, I think these are better:

“I ran in the park yesterday”
“I went running in the park yesterday”
“I went for a run in the park yesterday”

Gabriela Costa
Gabriela Costa
1 year ago

I have always thought that these cases were exceptions and that I just needed to accept and memorize. But it really makes sense when we think about it as a proper category. Du bist der Hammer, Emanuel! Thank you so much, I have already taken notes.

Lender
Lender
1 year ago

hallo leute, Ich bin Lender und Ich bin 21 jahre alt, Ich komme aus Venezuela aber Ich wohne im moment in Chile mit meine Familie. I reached out the creator of this wonderful website through mail a couple of days ago and explained my situation about why I wasn’t able to purchase a subscription. This guy, without hesitation, gave me a one-year subscription and suggested thanking those people who have paid more in other to give other people the opportunity to learn this wonderful language for free. I want to thank all those amazing human beings for giving me such a great opportunity, I taught myself English so If I make any mistake while typing this, I’m so sorry, I’m still enhancing my skills at writing wish you all the best and never give up learning :)

Desdra
Desdra
1 year ago
Reply to  Lender

Great job with the English! One suggestion:

who have paid more in other to give other people… / who have paid extra (more works but extra sounds better to my ears) in order to give other people…

That was excellent English. Good job.

Jens
Jens
1 year ago

Great post. Thank you. If you are looking for a more detailed explanation on the wider topic, you might want to check out my post on the topic https://www.olesentuition.co.uk/single-post/with-zu-or-without-infinitive-clauses-and-modal-verbs-in-german

Kiran
Kiran
1 year ago

Hallo Emmanuel,
Thankyou for sponsoring me in. Its really a wonderful intiative. One day i will surely make it up to you and your team. Nocheinmal Danke schöne.

Utku
Utku
1 year ago

Wieder ein perfekter Artikel von Emanuel.

By the way thanks a lot who paid a little extra for the others and Emanuel. I did not see these type of team spirit even people in the language course or even university who I know face to face.

Vielen Dank
Liebe Grüße Utku

PeterB
PeterB
1 year ago

In the Quiz, you write that “lernen” must connect with “zu”, but here they show an example without “zu”:
 
https://www.sekada.de/korrespondenz/rechtschreibung/artikel/mit-oder-ohne-zu-so-wenden-sie-die-verben-helfen-und-lernen-richtig-an/

John
John
1 year ago

Thanks! This is extremely helpful to me because I’ve been puzzled by these expressions in German for a long time.

Kailer Mullet
Kailer Mullet
1 year ago

These zu exception words. Would it be fair to say that they are also the words that take “bin” rather than “habe” in the past perfect tense? As in ich bin angekommen

Luke
Luke
1 year ago

Der Artikel hat mir sehr gut gefallen. Vielen Dank :)

Ich gehe in den Park dreimal pro Woche (Wit-no-Zouz – jetzt verstehe ich!) joggen.

MmeChauchat
MmeChauchat
1 year ago

Thank you so much! I LOVE your blog, Emmanuel.

I have been trying to learn German on my own for about a year now, so I thought I would get over myself and signup for an online course. I just finished my first (group) lesson, and I am extremely disappointed. It seems so stupid to bore the students out of their minds with adjective endings!

I am a native Spanish speaker and a translator from English and Italian. My French is also quite advanced, and I can understand and read Portuguese. So by now I kind of know HOW to learn a language, and this course is NOT it.

My all-time goal is to be able to enjoy Thomas Mann’s “Der Zauberberg”, but so far my main problem with German is vocabulary. All those verdammten Verben just sound so much alike! From now on, I will continue with my personal method, and this blog and all the comments are top of the list :)

Any news on that book on prefixes you keep announcing in older posts? :D

Grüße an alle aus Buenos Aires!

Elsa
Elsa
1 year ago
Reply to  MmeChauchat

Wow, not only do we share an all-time goal (Der Zauberberg”), we also have the same problem with the German language!

Yep, too many words that are just sooooo alike, not only verbs, thare are lots of adjectives and nouns that are also similar to each other and to other categories of words as well! Just think of all the goddamn words starting with ver-, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, all in a hodgepodge, sounding alike. And then you get the prefix-verb nightmare…

BTW, I’m also a translator (mostly French to English), my French is very advanced. I can also understand and read a bit of Spanish and Italian! Seems we have quite a bit in common.

Emanuel has been by far my main source for grammar, vocab, etc. I also have a private teacher, so I can practice speaking (you really can’t do that on your own) and I’ve recently followed the advice of a friend who told me to listen to a German TV show (any show will do) so I can train the ear as well. That did wonders!
Try and do that if you can, that’s the best advice I’ve received as far as my German learning goes, maybe it’ll work for you as well :)

MmeChauchat
MmeChauchat
1 year ago
Reply to  Elsa

Hey, Elsa!

Thanks for your lovely reply. We should try reading Der Zauberberg together, at least bits of it! I have read it translated into Spanish, French and Italian, but I always have the feeling I am missing something. And as translators, we know all too well that nothing can replace the original text.

I recently watched “Das letzte Wort” on Netflix and it was extremely helpful. I usually work with the DW Live channel on so I can listen to the German “melody”.

Unfortunately, there aren’t many German natives living here in Argentina, and hiring a private teacher who lives in Germany is just too expensive for our Euro exchange rate :(

Do you find making lists of words helpful? I keep writing them down, but then I don’t feel like going over them. Ich bin eine faule Übersetzerin, ich weiß!

Best,

María José

Elsa
Elsa
1 year ago
Reply to  MmeChauchat

You’re very welcome. By the way, your English is flawless :)

I do make lists of words… and then find it a drag to go over them… just like you!

I also read German books, but I’ve started by reading kids’ books, so I wouldn’t feel too frustrated… I’m now graduated to books for 15-year-olds! They’re a lot less dauting than “normal” books and you manage to do passive learning. Sometimes I catch myself saying something I didn’t even know I could ;)

Hope you make good progress,
Elsa

Sierra
Sierra
1 year ago
Reply to  Elsa

Hello elsa and Mme Chauchat,
Speaking of books to read, I off-and-on read Harry Potter books and The Hunger Game series with both English and German books open. I try reading in German, get lost, open the english, find my way again (or not) and then repeat. Sometimes the ‘magical’ words are a bit of a hassle, but the books are (obviously) great stories, and I just practice my comprehension skills as “context’ becomes a big aspect of learning after the basics. (Correct me you language-people, but that is what I was taught). Then when my eyes get heavy or my brain fuzzy, I just enjoying reading in English. I DON”T put pressure on myself. I did that for 10 years in college and still in my daily professional life, thus I refuse to do it for the fun of learning a second language. Anyway… I find reading a book I love (well, maybe not “Team of Rivals” by Doris Goodwin, or “The Brothers Karmazov” by Dostoyevsky; generally something ‘easier’) in German with your native tongue book is a really fun way to learn.
I also listen to german tv shows and movies. It is good practice to pretend to understand people who talk with 5 rocks in the mouths. :-)
And I agree, Emanuel does a bang-up job on this site and I value its content. I don’t think I will now ever forget “What” with “zu” and that is very valuable. Cheers fellow students

MmeChauchat
MmeChauchat
1 year ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Lieber Emmanuel,

I feel like I know you already from reading all your wonderful musings on language structure, word origin, and your dislike for unicorns.

I know I should start reading, and I have tried with different texts, but I always have the feeling the books I choose are just too difficult for a beginner. Any Empfehlungen?

BTW, your posts on German word order really blew my mind! THANK YOU SO MUCH.

Anonymous
Anonymous
1 year ago
Reply to  MmeChauchat

I have found the books by Cornelia Funke enjoyable and readable- but with difficulty at first, and some (Tintenherz) are available in several languages if you want some help. I started out by reading Eric Kästner’s Emil und die Detective and Heidi by Johanna Spyri because I was already familiar with the stories, but I had the feeling the German language has changed a bit since they were written. At the beginning I would only read a paragraph, or at most a page at a time, but the new vocabulary was often repeated, so after a few months I could read a chapter or two at one sitting.

Jing
Jing
1 year ago

intereting. it’s also like this in chinese:
-你去哪了? where did you go?
-我去吃饭了。 I went to eat.

Jing
Jing
1 year ago
Reply to  Emanuel

yes, it also works.
Normally we would say “去吃饭”, literial translantion is “go eating”

Ex-reporter
Ex-reporter
1 year ago

Right after I read the entry on “zu,” The Nürnberger Nachrichten led with this online: “Warum Politiker auch mal zum Einkaufen gehen sollten.” (https://www.nordbayern.de/1.10948975?email=cswift1@satx.rr.com&hash=9ZbE8nItBYx7m38ZfB8Q4gYYMMGtcVAWzvDLlt6uFeQ!E) As you’ve often pointed out, nothing in language is always true, even for native speakers. Thanks for the article.

Ex-reporter
Ex-reporter
1 year ago
Reply to  Ex-reporter

Now that I think about it, “zum Einkaufen” is not the same as “zu einkaufen” or “einzukaufen.” :-)

Anne Maxwell-Jackson
Anne Maxwell-Jackson
1 year ago

Thank you so much. The use, or not, of zu has puzzled me since starting to learn German. You explained perfectly.