The German Infinitive

Hikers in the Bavarian Alps
Most German infinitives end with -en. For example: wandern/to wander, hike.

Florian Werner / LOOK-foto/Getty Images

Just like in English, the German infinitive is the basic form of a verb (schlafen/to sleep). However, it is less frequently found than in English to be accompanied by the preposition zu/to. The following is an overview of specifics pertaining to the German infinitive.

The Ending of German Infinitives

Most German infinitives end with -en (springen/to jump), but there are also some verbs that end in the infinitive with -ern, -eln, -n (wandern/to wander, hike, sammeln/to collect, sein/to be).

Tenses and Moods

The German infinitive is used in the following tenses and moods:

  • The future: Er will morgen arbeiten./He wants to work tomorrow.
  • Conjunctive II: Mein Vater möchte gerne nach Köln reisen./My father would like to travel to Cologne.
  • In the passive: Die Tür sollte verriegelt sein./The door should be locked.
  • In the passive perfect: Das Kind scheint zu spät angekommen zu sein./The child seems to have arrived too late.
  • With modal verbs: Der Junge soll die Banana essen, aber er will nicht./The boy should eat the banana, but he does not want to.

Infinitives as Nouns

Infinitives can become nouns. No changes are necessary. Only you must remember to precede the infinitive noun with the article das and to always capitalize it. For example: das Liegen/the lying-down, das Essen- the food, das Fahren/the driving.

Infinitives as Subject

Some German infinitives can stand in as the subject of a sentence. Some of these are: anfangen, aufhören, beginnen, andenken, glauben, hoffen, meinen, vergessen, versuchen. For example: Sie meint, sie hat immer recht./Sie meint, immer recht zu haben: She thinks she is always right.

Note: If you say: "Sie meint, er hat immer recht" you can't replace er with the infinitive since the original subject of the sentence isn't restated.

  • Ich freue mich, dass ich ihn bald wiedersehe./I am happy that I will be able to see him again.
  • Ich freue mich ihn bald wiederzusehen./I'm happy to see him again.

Conjugated Verb + Infinitive

Only a handful of verbs can pair up with an infinitive in a German sentence. These verbs are: bleiben, gehen, fahren, lernen, hören, sehen, lassen. (Ich bleibe hier sitzen/I will stay sitting here.)

Conjunction + Infinitive 

Phrases with the following conjunctions will always carry a German infinitive, whether it a short or longer phrase: anstatt, ohne, um. For example: 

  • Er versucht ohne seinen Stock zu gehen./He tries to walk without his cane.
  • Sie geht in die Schule, um zu lernen./She goes to school to learn.

Noun + Infinitive 

Sentences with der Spaß and die Lust will carry a German infinitive:

  • Sie hat Lust, heute einkaufen zu gehen./She feels like going shopping today.

Sentences with the following nouns will also carry a German infinitive: die Absicht, die Angst, die Freude, die Gelegenheit, der Grund, die Möglichkeit, die Mühe, das Problem, die Schwierigkeiten, die Zeit. For example:

  • Ich habe Angst dieses alte Auto zu fahren./I am scared to drive this old car.
  • Sie sollte diese Gelegenheit nicht verpassen./She should not miss this opportunity.

Exceptions: There will not be an infinitive if there is a conjunction in the sentence:

  • Es gibt ihr viel Freude, dass er mitgekommen ist./It gives her great joy that he came along.