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When should we use "um...zu" and only "zu"?

Hi everyone! Can you please explain when we use "um...zu" and only "zu" in subordinate clauses?

January 1, 2017



The usual answer is: If you can say: ".... in order to [verb]", you should use "..., um zu [verb]". If you cannot say "in order to [verb]" instead of just "to [verb]", then "um" is wrong.

For example:

"I am here to find a new car." = "I am here in order to find a new car." = "Ich bin hier, um ein neues Auto zu finden."

"What can he do to explain it more clearly?" = "What can he do in order to explain it more clearly?" = "Was kann er machen, um es genauer zu erklären?"

"I try to win." = "Ich versuche zu gewinnen." ("I try in order to win." = "My reason for trying is to win." which is not the same as: "I try to win." = "I give winning a try.", so saying here. "Ich versuche (es), um zu gewinnen." actually changes the meaning of the sentence.)

I hope I could be of help.

PS: In the first example you could also omit the "um" in German, but doing so gives the sentence an unusual formal or lyrical tone. You find that in old books or poems. In some cases it might be idiomatic. I don't know an example for that just now though.


Yes, now I understood much better. Thank you so much for your help!

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