Mastering German Grammar: Understanding and Using Dependent Clauses with Infinitive Clauses

German grammar can be challenging, but having a solid understanding of dependent clauses and infinitive clauses is essential for constructing clear and concise sentences. In this comprehensive guide, we will dive deep into the world of infinitive clauses, their functions in dependent clauses, and how to use them effectively to improve your German language skills.

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction to Dependent Clauses
  2. Infinitive Clauses: Definition and Basics
  3. Types of Infinitive Clauses
  4. Formation of Infinitive Clauses
  5. Using Infinitive Clauses in Dependent Clauses
  6. Common Mistakes and How to Avoid Them
  7. Practical Examples and Exercises
  8. Conclusion

Introduction to Dependent Clauses

A dependent clause is a group of words that contains a subject and a verb but cannot stand alone as a complete sentence. In German, dependent clauses are an essential aspect of sentence structure, as they provide additional information to the main clause. They often begin with a subordinating conjunction (e.g., weil, dass, ob) or a relative pronoun (e.g., der, die, das). Dependent clauses usually come after the main clause and are separated by a comma.


  • Ich gehe ins Kino, weil ich den Film sehen möchte.
    (I am going to the cinema because I want to see the movie.)

In this example, “weil ich den Film sehen möchte” is the dependent clause, providing a reason for the action in the main clause.

Infinitive Clauses: Definition and Basics

Infinitive clauses (Infinitivsätze) are a specific type of dependent clause in German grammar. They consist of an infinitive verb (the base form of the verb) and any accompanying elements, such as objects or adverbs. Infinitive clauses are used to express actions or states without specifying a particular subject. They often replace a subordinate clause and can make a sentence shorter and more concise.


  • Ich habe vor, ins Kino zu gehen.
    (I intend to go to the cinema.)

In this example, “ins Kino zu gehen” is an infinitive clause that replaces a subordinate clause, making the sentence more concise.

Types of Infinitive Clauses

There are two main types of infinitive clauses in German grammar: those with “zu” (to) and those without “zu.”

Infinitive Clauses with “zu”

These clauses are formed by adding “zu” before the infinitive verb. They are used when the main verb requires an infinitive construction, such as with verbs of intention, perception, or preference. Some common verbs that are often followed by infinitive clauses with “zu” include:

  • beginnen (to begin)
  • versuchen (to try)
  • vergessen (to forget)
  • aufhören (to stop)


  • Er hat vergessen, seine Hausaufgaben zu machen.
    (He forgot to do his homework.)

Infinitive Clauses without “zu”

These clauses are formed without using “zu” before the infinitive verb. They are often used with modal verbs and other auxiliary verbs, such as:

  • können (can)
  • müssen (must)
  • dürfen (may)
  • wollen (want)


  • Sie muss die Wahrheit sagen.
    (She must tell the truth.)

Formation of Infinitive Clauses

To form an infinitive clause, follow these basic steps:

  1. Identify the main verb that requires an infinitive construction.
  2. Determine if the infinitive clause requires “zu” or not.
  3. Place “zu” (if necessary) and the infinitive verb at the end of the clause.
  4. Add any additional elements, such as objects or adverbs, before “zu” (if used) and the infinitive verb.


  • Ich versuche, morgen früher aufzustehen.
    (I try to get up earlier tomorrow.)

In this example, “versuchen” is the main verb, the clause requires “zu,” and “morgen früher” are the additional elements.

Using Infinitive Clauses in Dependent Clauses

Infinitive clauses can be used in various ways in dependent clauses. Here are some common applications:

To Express Purpose or Intention

Infinitive clauses with “zu” can be used to express the purpose or intention of an action in the main clause.


  • Er spart Geld, um sich ein neues Auto zu kaufen.
    (He saves money to buy a new car.)

To Replace a Subordinate Clause

Infinitive clauses can replace subordinate clauses, making the sentence shorter and more concise.


  • Sie ist traurig, weil sie die Prüfung nicht bestanden hat.
    (She is sad because she did not pass the exam.)

This sentence can be shortened using an infinitive clause:

  • Sie ist traurig, die Prüfung nicht bestanden zu haben.
    (She is sad not to have passed the exam.)

After Certain Verbs

Infinitive clauses can follow certain verbs, such as verbs of perception (sehen, hören), preference (lieben, hassen), or intention (planen, hoffen).


  • Wir hoffen, dich bald wiederzusehen.
    (We hope to see you again soon.)

Common Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Here are some common mistakes when using infinitive clauses and how to avoid them:

Incorrect Use of “zu”

Remember that not all infinitive clauses require “zu.” Modal verbs and auxiliary verbs do not require “zu” before the infinitive verb.


  • Incorrect: Sie will zu gehen.
  • Correct: Sie will gehen.

Incorrect Word Order

Ensure that the infinitive verb and “zu” (if used) are placed at the end of the clause, with any additional elements before them.


  • Incorrect: Sie versucht zu aufstehen früher.
  • Correct: Sie versucht, früher aufzustehen.

Practical Examples and Exercises

To reinforce your understanding of infinitive clauses, try these exercises:

  1. Rewrite the following sentences using infinitive clauses:
  • Ich möchte, dass du mir hilfst.
  • Sie hat Angst, dass sie den Zug verpasst.
  1. Correct the mistakes in these sentences:
  • Er hat vergessen zu seine Schlüssel nehmen.
  • Ich liebe zu reisen in neue Länder.
  1. Combine the following pairs of sentences using infinitive clauses:
  • Er hat Geld gespart. Er möchte ein neues Fahrrad kaufen.
  • Sie hat ihre Brille verloren. Sie kann nicht gut sehen.


Mastering infinitive clauses in German grammar is crucial for constructing clear and concise sentences. By understanding their functions in dependent clauses and how to form them correctly, you can greatly improve your German language skills. Practice using infinitive clauses in various contexts, and soon, you will be able to construct complex sentences with ease.

Grammar Theory

Grammar Exercises

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