See here: http://www.dartmouth.edu/~german/Grammatik/WordOrder/WordOrder.html It's quite a long page, so I recommend searching for 'double infinitive'
The short version: double infinitives in perfect tenses go to the last position.
Thank you so much for this info! Do you work for Duolingo or are you just awesome because you always post really useful information and help everyone? :)
Does it matter which of the two infinitives come first? Is what I'm asking. Also, why does the modal verb not get pushed to the end as well? Or is it just the non-modal verbs that do that? Thanks!
Thanks. No, I don't work for duolingo and I really am awful ;-) I'll restrict myself to main clauses. Word order in subordinate clauses is a little bit different (see the link).
It depends on the two verbs. The general idea is that the last verb carries the main action of the infinitive pair. In our case, the main action is 'to hear'. What did they (not) hear? Our coming. If you switched the order, the main action would be 'to come' – they could not come to hear (i.e. listen to) us. It doesn't work with these two verbs, however, because 'to listen to' is 'zuhören' in German. So: "Sie konnten uns nicht zuhören kommen" - "They couldn't come to listen to us." Hope that helps.
And because you are so nice, here is special gift for you: A triple infinitive: "Sie werden uns nicht zuhören kommen können" ;-)
"Hätten sie uns nicht zuhören kommen gedurft haben sollen?" – "Shouldn't they have been allowed to come to listen to us?" ;-) But don't panic: I had to make up this example. You'll rarely hear a German actually speak that way ;-) But from a grammatical point of view, it works ;-)
well, thanks to you there's finally a silver lining. Perhaps they should have explained it just like that during those German courses I took back in college. They didn't even bother to explain what 'kaum' actually means, so, you get the picture.
Thank you thank you thank you :)
I'm having trouble figuring out why the nicht is where it is... Say for instance you wanted to say "They could hear us not come." (which I realize is a little silly). It seems to me that the nicht should be between either the kommen and the hören or the konnten and the uns in the duolingo example, so I'm wondering how I can differentiate that nicht in the case of double infinitives.
Isn't "konnten" related to the past? http://www.verbix.com/webverbix/German/k%C3%B6nnen.html why couldn't the answer be: "They couldn't have heard us coming." ?
There have always been a few harder sentences thrown in randomly, and true, occasionally whole lessons are hard, but that is no cause to give up. The hardest part of language learning is usually near the beginning. If you can muster the patience and perseverance to get past that first big hump, it gets easier from there.
I think it would be
Sie haben uns nicht kommen hören gekonnt.
Try thinking replacing the English word "could" with "were able to" to make the tenses clearer.
They were not able to hear us coming --> They have not been able to hear us coming.
Corresponds to the change
Sie konnten --> Sie haben gekonnt
Only one verb takes the second slot in the sentence (haben) and the rest stack backwards at the end. The verb that's most critically tied in with the verb phrase (gekonnt) comes at the very end. The Dartmouth article linked above does an excellent job of explaining it, but if the grammatical terminology is too much for you, try: https://yourdailygerman.com/german-word-order/
(They could not have been able to hear us coming = Sie konnten uns nicht kommen hören können gehabt????? Or would it be "dürfen" or "müssen"? I still get all those different negations mixed up...)