When to use “zu” or “um zu”

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

and welcome to a new episode of the most bestest German grammar course on the entire freaking planet.
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. Seriously… it’s… it’s terrific work.Grea
Just like the haircut I gave to my girlfriend last week. When she saw it, she said that she’s really happy now with the stay at home corona stuff because no one has to see this disas…  wait, that’s not really praise, actually, is it.
Anyway, the question we are going to look at is:

When do I use “zu” and when “um zu”? 

And that also includes the question on when to use neither, because that’s a common mistake too.
So today, we’ll find out what these phrasings are, when to use which and how to use them.

If you just want the most important things as a quick fix, check out the video I made with Easy German.

Zu or Um zu – Yourdailygerman and Easy German :)

But if you want to dive a bit deeper, have more examples, learn about the exceptions and the sentence structure and do a little test,  then follow me :). Let’s go…

And we’ll start with some basic background

Some basic background

Gee… thanks headline, I just said that! When have headlines become such attention seekers.
Anyway… so, 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 or when or for what purpose. 

  • I called Maria today.

This sentence has the action to call, the entity doing the calling is I, and then the sentence contains answers to the questions “Who do I call?” (Maria)  and “When did I call Maria?” (today).

So far so basic. Now, sometimes, the additional information involves another action. For instance, the reason for my call might be that it’s her birthday and I want to congratulate her.
Now, one way to integrate that information into the main sentence is to use what  grammar bores books call a  Santa Clause… uhm I meant… subordinate clause.

  • I called  Maria today, because I want to congratulate her on her birthday.

But another really common way to kind of “connect” two actions is called an infinitive clause.

  • I called Maria today to congratulate on her birthday.

An infinitive is basically the form a verb has in the dictionary. It’s basically just the plain action without being personalized for a subject.  These phrasings can be pretty slick and efficient, and many languages have them.
But, surprise, surprise, every language has its own take on them.
English has two ways to connect an infinitive to another verb. Modal verbs can do it directly…

  • I can call you tomorrow.

and the rest needs a to…

  • I want to call you tomorrow.

German three ways… with zu, with um zu and directly. So let’s now go them one at a time and see when to use them. And we’ll start with the direct way. or in other words… when to use neither “zu” nor “um zu”

When to use nothing

Just like in English, German modal verbs also take other verbs directly, so without zu or um zu.

  • I am able to swim.
  • Ich kann schwimmen.
  • I must go now.
  • Ich muss jetzt gehen.
  • Thou shalt not steal.
  • Du sollst nicht stehlen.

There’s a slight hiccup though, because English and German modal verbs are not entirely the same different. The English to want is NOT a modal verb, the German wollen however, is.

  • I want to go to the farmers market.
  • Ich will auf den Markt gehen.

And often German uses a modal verb where English uses another phrasing.

  • You are not allowed to smoke in this bar.
  • In der Bar darf man nicht rauchen.
  • I have to go now.
  • Ich muss jetzt gehen.

So it doesn’t really matter how English does it. What matters is if you have a German modal verb. If you need a refresher on those, I’ll post a link below. For now, here’s a little overview:

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

Those are not the only ones that can take another verb directly. Also werden, which German uses for the future tense, doesn’t go with zu or um zu.

  • Ich werde schnell Deutsch lernen.
  • I will learn German quickly.

And then there are some “normal” verbs that IN SOME PHRASINGS don’t go with zu.  Mainly, the verbs hören and sehen

  • Ich höre meine Nachbarn streiten.
  • I hear my neighbors arguing.
  • Ich sehe das Einhorn Gras essen.
  • I see the unicorn eat gras.

And then the verb sein, gehen and kommen.

  • Ich gehe heute tanzen.
  • I‘m going dancing today.
  • Ich bin im Park Yoga machen.
  • I‘m in the park doing yoga.
  • Kommst du mit shoppen?
  • Are you gonna come shopping (with me)?

Technically, this also works with other verbs of motion, and I think we’ll also talk about it in a separate article at some point.
But yeah, those were the verbs that take another infinitive directly and it’s no problem to learn them by heart.
All the other verbs either need zu or um zu.

When to use “zu”

When you search for the topic online you’ll find a fair amount of lists with verbs that usually go with zu. However, it’s much better to understand the logic behind when to use which.
The difference between zu and um zu is the role the element plays in the sentence. And the key to finding a role is often to understand what question it answers.

  • I forgot [to turn off the stove].

In this example, the question the to-part answers is… drumroll … what?
The element has the role of an object.

  • I forgot [your name].
  • I forgot [to turn off the stove].

And that’s what a zu-element does in German.

  • Ich habe [deinen Namen] vergessen.
  • Ich habe vergessen, [den Herd auszumachen].

Most of you now probably have a question about the word order, but we’ll get to that later. For now, what matters is that you see how the zu-element has the exact same role as a “normal” object. Here’s another example:

  • Thomas plant [einen Urlaub].
  • Thomas is planning [a vacation].
  • Thomas plant, [seinen Urlaub auf dem Balkon zu verbringen].
  • Thomas is planning [to spend this summer on the balcony].

Just like the first example, the infinite-element has the role of the direct object here. But that’s actually not all it can do.
It can also be a prepositional object.
Here’s an example for what that is…

  • I‘m happy about [my present].
  • Ich freue mich über [mein Geschenk].

Instead of connecting the object directly, we’re using a preposition to do it. The corresponding question is still what, but it would use the same preposition….

  • “You‘re happy about what?”
    About my present.

Now, infinitve-elements can also fill this role, and the twist is that the preposition actually disappears.

  • I’m happy [to hear that].
  • Ich freue mich, [das zu hören].

But you can see that it has the same role as the prepositional element, and you can ask for it the same way…. at least in German.

  • Über was freust du dich?”
    “(Darüber), das zu hören.

Here’s another example, this time with the phrase Lust haben.

  • Ich habe heute keine Lust [auf Deutsch].
  • I have no desire [for german] today.
  • Ich habe heute keine Lust, [Deutsch zu lernen].
  • I have no desire [to learn German] today.

The zu-element has the exact same role as the auf-element in the first sentence and in essence it is still an answer to “what?”.
But I can totally understand if these prepositional objects are a little confusing.
Luckily, the role of the um-zu-elements is completely different and it’s almost impossible to mix them up.

When to use “um… zu”

We’ve learned that a zu-element has the role of an object.
The um-zu-element is completely different.

  • I’m reading this [to learn something].

Which question would you use to ask for the to-element here? I think intuitively, all of you would ask why? Why are you reading this. Or more precisely: for what purpose?
And THAT’S the role of an um-zu-element. It gives us information about the goal of an action, and often, we can replace it with in order to.

  • Ich lese das, um etwas zu lernen.
  • I’m reading that (in order) to learn something.
  • I go to the kitchen (in order) to get a beer.
  • Ich gehe in die Küche, um ein Bier zu holen.

So… zu-elements have the role of an object. They give us information about [what?]. Um-zu-elements have the role of a goal, a purpose. They give us information about [why?]. And because they have different roles, they can totally come together in one sentence.

  • I’m trying [to speak German] [to impress my date].
  • Ich versuche [Deutsch zu sprechen], [um mein Date zu beeindrucken].

What am I trying? To speak German. Why, for what purpose am I trying that? (in order) to impress my date.
I hope you can see that the two elements have COMPLETELY different roles, even though both work with to in English.
Ultimately, the goal is of course to get a feeling for zu and um zu, but for a start, using these two questions what and why is a great test to get to that feeling.
But it’s not a fail-proof rule. There are definitely sentences where it gets tricky. Or shitty. So let’s take a look at that real quick before we get to the word order stuff many of you are waiting for :)

What exceptions look like

There are some cases where the simple what or why test let’s us down. We just have to live with that. And the perfect example are what I will call too-to-phrasing.

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

And, I’m not gonna lie. Truth is my superpower so I’m just gonna say it… one is translated with um zu, the other one with zu.

  • Das Auto ist zu schnell gefahren, [um das Nummernschild zu lesen].
  • Diese Lektion war zu schwierig [zu verstehen].

And honestly… I can’t logically tell you why.
The second one could also be “um sie zu verstehen” but NOT “um zu verstehen”. So I guess there is something related to whether there’s an object in it or not, but honestly… analysing this is a waste of time. I really really tried to find a logic, or some sort of way of telling when to use which, but I couldn’t.
There are these fringe cases where there seems to be no logic for why it’s zu or um zu and I think the best we can do is just accept them. Welcome them with open arms and love in our hearts.
Welcome, dear exception. Thank you for making German less boring and predictable. Thank you for surprising me and for challenging me to leave my comfort zo… gee, what am I saying.

Now, besides the instances where our test doesn’t really work, there are also gonna be phrasings that can’t be translated with an infinitive-element at all.
The one I want to mention here is:

Question Word + to + verb

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

These DO NOT WORK with (um)-zu.
You’ll have to go “all the way” and make a normal boring 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 do that.
    (I don’t know how one has/I have 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 stops.)
  • Ich weiß nicht, wann man aufhört.
  • I remember who to ask to get information.
    (I remember who one has/I 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.
All right.

So now we know when to use zu or um zu or nothing and we have a quite effective, super quick test.
What we haven’t talked about yet is the grammar.
So… let’s take a look :).

Grammar of “zu” and “um zu”

And there are two pretty much separate parts to this. First of, the structure and order WITHIN the element and then the structure and order in the sentence that CONTAINS the element.
Let’s start within the element.
And you might have already noticed that their structure is like that of a side sentence… you know, like a weil or dass-sentence.
So the verb itself is at the end and the zu is in front of it.

  • Ich habe vor, mir ein leckeres, kaltes Bier aus dem riesigen Kühlschrank zu holen.
  • I am planning to get myself a tasty cold beer from the gigantic fridge.

And if there’s an um, that goes right to the beginning.

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

If we have a separable prefix verb, there’s a little twist. Then, the zu gets squeezed between the prefix, just like the ge- for the past tense. And the magnetic force between prefix and verb pulls it all into one word. If the prefix is NOT separable, then the zu goes in front of the verb.

  • Ich habe vergessen, meinen Chef anzurufen.
  • I forgot to call my boss.
  • Elon Musk hat vor, alle seine Häuser zu verkaufen.
  • Elon Musk plans to sell all his houses.

Now, on the outside, from the perspective of the containing sentence, the (um)-zu-element is ALSO pretty much like dass or a weil-sentence.
So we can technically put it into different positions.

  1. [Deutsch zu lernen ] kann manchmal frustrierend sein.
  2. Manchmal kann [Deutsch zu lernen] frustrierend sein.
  3. Es kann manchmal frustrieren sein, [Deutsch zu lernen.]

All of them are correct. But in most contexts, the last version will the the most natural choice.
And this brings us right back to a question many of you had in the beginning.
As beginners, we all learn that the verb has to go to the end if there is more than one part. According to that, version two should be the most idiomatic version.
But the thing is that these infinitive-elements are more like a sentence than a noun. And this “verb-at-the end” stuff doesn’t really include side sentences. You CAN squeeze them in the middle of the container. But if you don’t have to, then it’s much better style to NOT do it.

  • Ich habe [Deutsch zu lernen] vor drei Monaten angefangen.

This is a very, very typical mistake… like… I’d go as far as to say that 80% of you have made it. And it’s not wrong, technically. But it would be more idiomatic to say it this way:

  • Ich habe vor drei Monaten angefangen, [Deutsch zu lernen.]

And this is actually much easier to say. So yeah… the (um)-zu-element DOESN’T need to be squeezed into the middle of its containing sentence.

So, that’s pretty much it.
Now let’s put what we’ve learned to the test and do a really really challenging sentence.. who’s with me??

A really hard example

Behold :)

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

Daaaaaamn, what a scary monster.
Let’s take it one to at a time….

  • What would be nice?
  • Why would be nice?

Obviously what makes a LOT more sense, so the first to-element (which contains all the others) seems to be an object and we need just zu in German.
Now, the verb that follows is to be able to. That will translate to können. And können is actually a modal verb in German and we need NO translation for the second to.
That means, so far we have:

  • Es wäre schön, dich anrufen zu können
  • It would be nice to be able to call you

Now, the next element in our long sentence is “to ask you“. A quick check with the questions will clear it up.

  • “to call you what? ”
    “To ask you.”
  • “To call you why?”
    “To ask you.”

Clearly, why makes a lot of sense. And we could just add in order to to call you. So this is a clear case for um zu.

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

Last but not least we have to come by. And again, a quick check with the questions clears it up…

  • “To ask you what?”
    “To come by.”
  • “To ask you why?”
    “To come by.”

The first one makes a lot more sense, so it’s probably just gonna be zu.
And it is :)
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.

Don’t worry though… you won’t have to do something like this again any time soon :).

And I think that’s it for today.
Hooray :).
This was our thorough look at when and how to use zu and um zu. Here as a reminder:

role of an object (answers to what) – zu
role of a goal (answers to why) – um… zu

And in case of modal verbs, werden or a few opther phrasing, you can just connect directly.
Now, if you want more recap and see how much you remember, just take the little quiz I have prepared for you.
I mean… I will have prepared it shortly. You’ll see it here shortly. It’s gonna be tremendous.
I also have a big exercise, so you can practice it a little
And of course, if you have any questions or suggestions, just leave me a comment.
I hope you liked it and see you next time.

Oh by the way, if you’re reading comments… this article is from 2012 originally, but I gave it a thorough do over in May 2020. Some of the old comments might not match with the article anymore. I’ll add a separator comment, so you know which ones are new :)



The big exercise: zu or um zu – self practice




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7 months ago

Hi –

Trying to grasp as to why this sentence has an um…zu construction…..

Keine gute Jahreszeit, um ohne Heizung zu sein.

it doesn’t appear to adhere to some of the rules outlined:

1. I don’t think “keine gute Jahreszeit“ can stand on its own?
2. I don’t feel like the um..zu.. is answering in order to or because I want?

Would be curious to get your take.


Dance with Shadows
Dance with Shadows
8 months ago

Why is the unicorn essen rather than fressen?

9 months ago

Hi Emanuel,

Forgive me if you covered it already, but I didn’t see mention of “da-” clauses. In such cases where we use an infinitive in a da- clause, do we use “zu” with it? For example: Ich träume davon, nach Deutschland zu fahren.

9 months ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Yes, thanks! As you said, it conforms to your rule.

1 year ago

Emanuel, hier bin ich wieder.. :-) Ich schreibe dir nach allem was ich tue, weil ich dich dafür bewundere, wie besonders und Leidenschaftlich du bei deiner Arbeit bist weil du, selbst wenn ich so einen berührenden Arbeitstag hatte, wirklich finde immer einen schlauen Weg mich zum lachen zu bringen…!!!!! Ich habe heute Abend mein Deutsch verblüfft und eher als der Unterricht ist ein bisschen schwierig :-/ du findest immer den Weg, mich zu entspannen und fröhlich zu sein :-) . Nicht viele guys hätten so etwas geschafft…you rock!!!! Ich habe das Quiz gemacht und ich werde ihnen ehrlich sagen, ich habe 2 Fehler gemacht. Ich habe die lange Übung noch nicht gemacht. Ich werde nächste Woche mit der anderen turbo-Übung von Relativ Pronomen machen, die du mir so klugerweise empfohlen hast, zu wiederholen. Ich mache beides netto eine Woche, wegen der Bewegung die du machst uns ich gebe dir gerne etwas Entspannung um the movation zu machen :-) Der Unterricht war so perfekt und ideal wie du und macht mich auch, auch wenn es schwer ist, entspannen!!!!! Hab eine sehr sehr süße Nacht Emanuel :-》

1 year ago
Reply to  Sylvie

Emanuel sorry for my german in my Massage above, but I’ve just noticed today, that from a point and then my german were realy confused and had no a specific meaning..I think, I will never learn not to make mistakes and write thinks no one understands :-( ( I ment, because of the move you told you have to do, I thought it would be better, even if I do again that big exercise of pronouns or if I want to write any other comment to you, to do it next week, you will be more relax and comfortable, in other words, to give some space to do your houseworks… I am really bad student..!! All the others I hope they are written in correct german, because they are true..Will spend 100 years until I learn to speak german right!!!!! And also the very sweet goodnight is still in valid! :-) (sorry again for my silly german, I’m traying to express myself, what I think or what I fell in this beloved language, but it’s very difficult to find the correct words every time)

1 year ago


Danke fuer den Artikel! Ich nehme an, dass der Grund, warum dieser Satz eine “um..zu” Konstruktion verwendet, der ist, dass alles bis zum “um” fuer sich selbst stehen kann?

Nach meinem Studienabschluss hatte ich 18 Monaten lang Zeit, um einen neuen Job zu finden.


1 year ago

Bezüglich Formulierungen wie “Ich sehe das Einhorn Gras fressen,” hast du das jemals in einem weiteren Artikel angesprochen? Ich habe ein paar Fragen, und zwar*, mit welchen anderen Verben funktioniert das? Kann man diese Formulierung benutzen, um etwas wie “I stay up late studying” zu sagen? Mein armes, versuchendes auf Deutsch zu denken** Gehirn will stattdessen eine Konstruktion wie “beim Studium,” aber ich würde gern noch wissen, ob es möglich ist.

Schließlich, wie wäre es im Perfekt? “Ich habe das Einhorn Gras fressen gesehen”?

*Ich habe kein richtiges Sprachgefühl für diesen Begriff, bitte entschuldige mich, während ich ihn unbeholfen ausprobiere
**Ebenso habe ich keine Ahnung wie man das konstruiert, und zwar nicht einmal eine Ahnung wie man solch ein Konzept googelt

1 year ago
Reply to  schwanzschwanz

Tut mir leid, ich habe grad eben bemerkt, dass Einhorne nicht fressen, sondern essen. Keine absichtliche Beleidigung, Einhorne!

1 year ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Vielen Dank :)

1 year ago

The article itself is great. Enmanuel explains so well that one feels he is just in person trying to make the lesson so enjoyable and useful for all. Well done .. I enjoyed it.

But please make sure you produce the solutions to the Quizes.

1 year ago

I believe that it is a good pedagogical thing for self-study, that all Quizes have their solutions. I had three questions wrongs in the Quiz about zu and um-zu subject. So, I wasted my time and effort guessing to do this test three times to no avail. So, the idea of the self-study is to have help from the site not to reduce one’s energy and interest trying to get the answers right.

1 year ago

Had a minor crisis on Q10 because I was about to click “They’re all correct.” but the question asked for a false statement, but it’s true that they are all correct. It was a real head scratcher for a second there ;)

1 year ago

I think I have a way to use the What/zu and Why/um zu. In the examples you gave below the what is the car is going too fast. The why is more why do I care or why does it matter, because I couldn’t read the plate.

The lesson was hard. That is the what. Why does it matter? Because I couldn’t understand it.

Does that sound reasonable to you?

Das Auto ist zu schnell gefahren, [um das Nummernschild zu lesen].

Diese Lektion war zu schwierig [zu verstehen].

1 year ago
Reply to  Emanuel

You had said that you couldn’t figure out a way of connecting those sentences to the what/why rule you laid out. I thought about what for but I was trying to follow the what/why construction so I manipulated it to be why instead of what for.

1 year ago

I think I’m confused about um-zu. You gave the following example:

I go to the kitchen (in order) to get a beer.
Ich gehe in die Küche, um ein Bier zu holen.

It’s perfectly good English to say the first sentence without the “in order”. Can you not directly translate to the German without using the um-zu?
Ich gehe in die kueche, ein bier holen.

I don’t understand the role of the um-zu. What does it add to the sentence that makes it different from the sentence without it? Or is that just not grammatically correct and you would never say it that way?


1 year ago
Reply to  Emanuel

I did not see that there was a pdf. I will go look for it now.

1 year ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Ah, I see the difference now and that sentence makes sense. I’m still new to the site and didn’t realize there were pdf versions of the lessons that might be different. Is it incorrect grammar to say this: Ich gehe in die kueche, ein bier holen?

I know that is a direct translation from English which is always a dangerous thing to do. Often it doesn’t work. Is this one of those times?

1 year ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Yes, that helps a lot! I’m starting to get the idea of um-zu. I really need to think in German for this to come more naturally and I’m working on it. It’s frustratingly slow but your blog has helped enormously. Thank you for the time and effort you put into this work. You are awesome.

2 years ago


2 years ago

Hello there!
Great article! And what a timely update! (I was wondering about how you knew about Elon selling his houses in 2012, haha.)
I do have one question: in the section of the “really hard sentence”, as you’re building the German sentence, at one point you end up with “Es wäre schön, dich anrufen zu können…”.
I’m confused as to why this wouldn’t be “Es wäre schön, dich anzurufen können…” since anrufen is a separable verb and können is modal (thus no ‘zu’).
Thank you so much! Cheer!

2 years ago

just to complicate things a bit further, Emanuel, are there case where both are OK?
For Example:
a) Zeit haben zu denken
b) Zeit haben, um zu denken
c) Zeit haben, umzudenken
where admittedly the last two have a different meaning and possible a different intonation when spoken

2 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

thanks Emanuel. German is not easy, but at least you do motivate people to keep learning it

2 years ago

Vielen dank fuer noch einen nuetzlichen Artikel!

Wenn es dich nicht stoert, ich hatte eine kurze Frage zu dem letzten Beispiel (the “really hard example”), die um den Unterschied zwischen “bieten” under “fragen” geht. Ich habe bemerkt, dass Sie die beiden Worte in verschiedenen Uebersetzungen von diesem Satz verwenden. Habe ich recht zu denken, dass nuer “bieten” in diesem Zusammenhang richtig ist? Ich hatte immer den Eindruck, dass man das Wort “bieten” benutzt, um die Lage zu beschreiben, in der man will, dass jemand anderen etwas tut. Aber ich koennte mich einfach irren!

Danke (und ich entschuldige mich fuer mein eingerostetes Deutsch…).


2 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Ah ok, das ist kein Problem und danke fuer die Erklaerung :). Ich bin froh, es ueberhaupt bemerkt zu haben.

Danke auch fuer das Korrigieren meines Fehlers – sehr ungluecklich, denn mein Kommentar geht hauptsaeclich um dieses Wort!

2 years ago

[spoiler title=” “] Hello Question 10 is a bit confusing. It asks to choose one false statement among 4 choices. One of the choices is: [They are all correct]. So if I choose this statement as false, that means one of the other 3 statements suppose to be not correct. As follows, I should mark one of the other 3 statements as falls. But if I do so, this means that a statement [they are all correct] is false. Do you get the point?

2 years ago

Hi Emmanuel ,I found this very useful and enjoyed doing the quiz. Having studied German for many years with the express purpose of being able to communicate with my Anglo-German grandsons ( who of course both speak English and expect this Oma to speak that language to them!!!) I am now needing this more in depth knowledge of the language that you give. Especially useful during lockdown when I can’t have my one to one lessons with my tutor. Big than you.

2 years ago

Nice runover! Thanks!
Just a typo check – In the en (second to last chunk of text) you wrote “opther” instead of “other”.. At least i think that’s what you where aiming for!

2 years ago

Nice scarf! :-) And really helpful video and article.

2 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Now that you’ve worn it in a video, it’s official. Clearly, it’s your scarf! :D

2 years ago

I remember that, aside from modal verbs, the advice in this article on “when to use nothing” used to be “when the sentence would be complete with or without the infinitive”. Like “I teach children” and “I teach children to sing” are both complete sentences, as are “Ich lehre Kinder” and “Ich lehre Kinder singen”. You seem to have dropped that advice though. I’d be interested to know why.

Is it possible that the non-modal-use-nothing rule could be if, in English, the infinitive could be replaced with a gerund noun, e.g. “I teach children singing” instead of “I teach children to sing”. After all, German infinitives are the usual translation for an English gerund noun.

2 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Now I feel like I’m losing my marbles. Do you have a copy of the old article?

2 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Thanks. I really must have misremembered where I picked up that example and can only think it was a German lesson in a classroom. For the purpose of bare infinitives, Hammer’s Grammar puts “lehren” in the same category as “lernen”, “helfen” and “heißen” (in the sense of “to command”). I don’t think you could name a rule after that sundry bunch.