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Where does an infinitive (phrase) go?

I know that an infinitive phrase usually goes at the end of a sentence, but what if the infinitive is part of a dependent clause?

It is a book about people who go to Germany in order to find a friend

Would "reisen" go before or after the infinitive?

Es ist ein Buch über Personen, die nach Deutschland reisen, um einen Freund zu finden.


Es ist ein Buch über Personen, die nach Deutschland, um einen Freund zu finden, reisen.

also in German is it an infinitive phrase or an infinitive clause? In English it is a phrase, but some websites are saying that in German it is a type of dependent clause with an implied subject. ~thank you!

June 1, 2018


  • 1059

An "um zu" construction always delivers the reason why somebody does something. In other words, it requires a verb. An "um zu" construction complements another clause. Er macht etwas, um etwas zu erreichen. Sie liest ein Buch, um besser Deutsch zu lernen. Er fährt jeden Tag mit dem Bus zur Arbeit, um Geld zu sparen. The "um zu" clause answers the questions: Warum? Warum macht er es? Warum liest sie ein Buch? Warum fährt er mit dem Bus?

Warum reisen sie nach Deutschland? Um einen Freund zu finden. That is, in your sentence, the infinitive clause complements the relative clause. An "um zu" clause could never complement a noun as a standard "zu" clause can: Sein Wunsch, nach Deutschland zu fahren, ist in Erfüllung gegangen.

How do you define the difference between phrase and clause in regard to the infinitive? In German, we call infinitive constructions usually Infinitivsätze, i.e. Satz usually translates as clause (in the context of grammar). Hauptsatz, Nebensatz, Relativsatz, Infinitivsatz, Fragesatz ... did I forget any?


ok, thank you very much! In English I learned that a clause is a group of words with a subject/verb combination, while a phrase does not have a subject/verb combination. Because the infinitive does not have a subject, in English it would be a phrase.

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What about imperative sentences? Just like an infinitve phrase, they do not have a subject, but It is implied. Would that be an imperative phrase as well? If I remember correctly, a Satz in German required a verb, but the subject is optional.

But I think language is too “liquid” to be always sorted out into too narrow boxes, and many grammar rules have to defend their existence against the exceptions.


That is very true! Imperative sentences are considered clauses with an implied subject. I think, however, that there are many cases where the infinitive does not have an implied subject, or at least you have to change the sentence to give it a subject.

Sign your name on the paper. This is clearly meant as (You) sign your name on the paper.


I like to read books. I like when (I) read books? I like reading books.

When the infinitive is acting like a noun, it does not have a subject. In my example, “to read books“ is a noun that “I like“.

Maybe it still does have an implied subject, but the infinitive‘s subject is way more vague than an imperative‘s subject.

Language is definitely full of exceptions, and I agree that maybe this is too narrow to have a concrete answer.

  • 1059

Thanks for your comments. They highlight the fact how much one’s own mother language affects one’s perception of other languages.

For me, the sentence “I like to read books” does imply the subject because the German corresponding sentence is: Ich lese gerne Bücher - without any infinitve. A more literal, but stylistically inferior, translation would be: Ich mag es, Bücher zu lesen.# But the underlying concept is still that “Ich” is the subject of the infinitive clause as my mind uses the same underlying concept of “ich lese gerne Bücher”. A construction with “mögen” where the second part has a different subject needs to be phrased without infinitive clause: Ich mag es, wenn mein Sohn Bücher liest (same thing for English).

Note: #The pronoun “es” stands for “Bücher zu lesen”, which clearly is an infinitve clause/phrase, but actually acts as the noun the pronoun refers to. I think this is another example where the official grammar terms are defied by the language they try to describe.

But in English you can say: I want (my son) to read books, which implies a rather subject-independent infinitive phrase (although from my perspective, I cannot make the implied subject disappear from the infinitive phrase completely). In German, again, these two sentences would need to be expressed differently: Ich will/möchte Bücher lesen. Vs. Ich möchte, dass mein Sohn Bücher liest.

Interesting stuff, languages!


I think it is : Es ist ein Buch über Menschen, die nach Deutschland gehen/ reisen, um einen Freund zu finden.

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