German Gym – Work your “zu… um… zu”

Hello everyone,

and welcome to … well to… to our newly opened gym.
Pumpin’ German till your grammar-abs are rock solid.
Over the years, I have developed a fair amount of exercises of different kinds to train the most important issues of German Grammar.
And then, today, I thought, well I do have all these pdf-files sitting on my hard drive slowly collecting dust… why not share them? So share them I will.

And the first one is going to be the one for

“zu vs. um zu”  

If you don’t know the rules yet… here is the article, I wrote on that…. it is long, it is meandering and boring and it is theoretical, so it is just what you love, isn’t it ;)

The exercise is designed for repeated use… so you do NOT need to fill in the blanks nor do you need to turn to page 213 and hold the book upside down to check for the solutions (god, that is something that really annoys me in work books… I do NOT want to flip pages all the time)
Anyway… the solutions are given on the right so all you need to do is to cover them and you can train with the paper all the time… on the train, on the job or on the toilet. And if it turns out the latter lacks that certain paper you need to much, well, you have a paper right in your hand :) and German Grammar actually saved your day.
Now… here is how the page works. You will be given a first part of a sentence, for example:

  • Ich gehe zum Kühlschrank,

The second part, the completion, will be given in the dictionary or infinitve form. Here is how it looks on the page.

  • Ich gehe zum Kühlschrank                    :                         ein Bier holen.    , um… zu…

The sentence is obviously supposed to mean:

  • I go to the fridge to get a beer.

And you have to decide whether you need to use zu, um.. zu  or nothing at all.
The correct choice in the example is um… zu, so after you have moved all the verbs into their place you should wind up with:

  • Ich gehe zum Kühlschrank, um ein Bier zu holen.

Now the page is not wide enough to give the fully formulated solutions, so you will only see what form (zu, um zu, nothing) to use and not where the verb goes or how zu squeezes between a prefix and a basic verb.
But after all, it is an exercise to get a feeling of when to use which, so I hope it is helpful anyway. Oh… to make the training extra beneficial, read everything out loud and do it WITHOUT writing it down.

So.. here it is, have fun and give me some feedback, if that helped you or if you have question regarding the exercise.

Exercise – zu – um zu (pdf)

And for those of you who need one, here is a quick heads up on the rules.

Use um zu when:

  •  you can replace the English to with in oder to. If you do something
    um zu do something else, that means that you do the first thing so
    you can do the second thing after. Doing the first thing is a
    prerequisite of doing the second.
  • Ich gehe in die Küche um mir ein Beer zu holen
  • I am going to the kitchen to (in order to) get myself a beer.

Use only zu when:

  • You cannot replace to by in order to. To double check, ask yourself whether you can enter a room just saying the first part of the sentence and then leave. If the people in the room would be extremely confused by that… use zu. “Ich gehe in die Küche” is fine. The following not so much “Fuck, I forgot.”… what????? So here zu is what you need.
  • Scheiße, ich habe vergessen, meinen Herd auszumachen.
  • Crap,  I forgot to turn off my stove.

Use nothing at all when:

  • Your first verb is a GERMAN modal. The mechanics are similar in English. “I can go” doesn’t use to either. The only stumbling block is that German modal are different verbs than English modals. The German modals are:
     können, wollen, müssen, sollen, dürfen, möchten, mögen
  • Ich will ein Eis essen.
  • I want to eat an icecream.

These are the basics. For the complete set of rules…. here again the link to the article… good luck.

for members :)

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Marc arbeitet viel : sich ein Auto kaufen – why not um zu? Marc arbeitet viel, um sich ein Auto zu kaufen – or am I making a mistake?

Great stuff here, thank you v v much.


I’ve just been looking through the PDF and shouldn’t it be ‘ich gehe ins Restaurent’ not ‘Ich gehen ins Restaurant’? And by the way, your explanation on this topic was great! :)


Sorry for correcting your English again:
“Fuck, I forgot to turn of my stove.”
should be
“Fuck, I forgot to turn off my stove.”


Ah, yes. Just in case you have not already heard this (Johnny) mnemonic …
Back in the day my “vintage” English teacher would say, “I smell ‘a rat’ in separate.”
Corny, but worked for me.
I still spell “occasion” wrong most of the time.


Hi, Thank you very much for your lesson. Great job. I we seen a lot of explanations, yours is just astonishing. Looking forward to see new ones.
German is Schverig, but after your explanation it gets Easy:))

Tyler Jones
Tyler Jones

You explained that in a really good way. Thanks for that!

Paul Speirs
Paul Speirs

I know its been up for a while but im just after reading this and taking the test as well. What a great explanation and a handy sheet for reminding the uses of each.
Ich denke, dass ich deinen Blog weiter lesen muss, um mein Verständnis weiter zu bringen.

I hope it made sense :O

Paul Speirs
Paul Speirs

so this is the time of day to catch you on here!
das freut mich sehr “dann wäre es “native” gewesen”. Ich habe viele viele übung gemacht und jetzt ich kann fast alles verstehen. das ist nur wegen dir. vielen herzlichen dank!

As a side note, you know one other thing that has really helped me to understand the way german is put together/used… hearing germans speak english, gives a great insight into how they use their own language. Just thought i would throw that in there.

Víðarr Väter
Víðarr Väter

Hmm i don’t get it still.

If ‘We are born to be free’ is ‘Wir sind geboren, um frei zu sein’ – i’m having a hard time seeing how ‘We are born to be free’ can be used as ‘We are born in order to be free’. It makes sense, but it just doesn’t seem right in English. It makes it sound as though we are born with the specific intention of being free, as if we’re born to fulfil it as a duty or a task.

I hope i explained that right but it’s a difficult one to get across properly.


Thank you very much for this website , you have no Idea of how useful your explanations are , or maybe you do , anyway … THANK YOU


I don’t understand why the following use zu und um…..zu? I thought that with modal verbs we do nothing?

Ich will unbedingt aufhören : rauchen
Ich muss mich sehr beeilen : pünktlich zum Termin kommen


I don’t undersand why the following sentences use zu und um…zu? I thought that with modal verbs we add nothing?
Ich will unbedingt aufhören : rauchen
Ich muss mich sehr beeilen : pünktlich zum Termin kommen


Vielen Dank für deine klare Erklärung über zu und um…zu und *nichts*. Ich habe so viel gelernt :)
Ich habe eine Frage. In die Frage
Ich mache seit 2 Monaten Yoga, ‘um mich zu entspannen’, oder ‘um zu entspannen’?
Muss man etwas zwischen um und zu stellen?

übrigens wieso niemanden statt niemand im Beispiel ‘Ich mache mein Radio leise, um niemanden zu stören’? Gibt es eine Folge auf Konjugation von jemand/niemand.. etc?

Danke sehr !


Ich versuche zwei Mal meine Comment zu posten, aber postet es nicht..
Ich habe eine Frage auf um…zu. Muss man etwas zwischen um und zu stellen? Zum Beispiel ich mache seit zwei Monaten Yoga (entspannen). Ich wundere sich, ob um mich zu entspannen order um zu entspannen richtig ist.
Übrigens gibt es eine Folge auf Konjugation von niemand, jemand etc? In dem Satz ‘ Ich mache mein Radio leise, um niemanden zu stören. Warum niemanden statt niemand?
Danke sehr, tolle und klare Erklärung! Ich freue mich sehr, Deutsch von dir zu lernen


I don’t understand this one. Can the first clause be a standalone sentence? Isn’t the verb transitive and the sentence lacks an object?
Maria braucht immer ewig : sich schminken.


Hallo. Could you please explain more this one: “Es dauert eine Weile, sich an das Wetter zu gewöhnen”.
Why is “um” not needed? Would it be correct to use “um zu” too?


Are there differences in meaning in this two sentences (and are they correct/make sense)?

Ich will aufhören zu rauchen
Ich will rauchen aufzuhören

Vielen Dank