Infinitive group

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In German, an infinitive group is the combination of an infinitive with the word “zu” and possibly other words. The term is used especially in connection with spelling rules ( comma rules ) and is not in all cases congruent with grammatical divisions of the infinitive.


The Duden (in its “Dictionary of Doubtful Cases”) defines infinitive groups generally as “expressions with infinitives that have to be with you”, for example to play, to run . Separable verbs form infinitive groups in just one orthographic word , e.g. B. to testify, to let in .

Infinitive groups appear either in the form of a "bare infinitive" or as an "expanded infinitive". In this context, the term "mere infinitive" means an infinitive group of the form " zu + Verb", while "extended infinitive" means an infinitive group that contains one or more additional words, for example in the example:

Statt am Bericht zu arbeiten, vergnügte sich Herbert mit Computerspielen. 

The word “work” is the infinitive which, in combination with “to”, represents an infinitive group. This infinitive group has been expanded to include the addition “on the report”. Elements such as “instead” that precede the infinitive group are traditionally also added to it (which is grammatically controversial; especially if “instead of” is a preposition ).


The spelling reform of 1996 brought about an extensive liberalization of the setting of commas in infinitive groups; the comma is now mostly optional. However, there are numerous cases in which a comma is required; in other cases, no comma is explicitly used.

The "mere infinitive" has an exceptional status, as it can be separated by a comma: Thomas did not think of () going . This is only possible if he depends on a "correlate" to which he refers: here that about it, but nouns can also be meant by it: He did not think of the reason () to go. If the “mere infinitive” is introduced by “with”, “around”, “without”, “instead of”, “instead of”, “except” or “as”, this is not possible.

Relation to the grammar of the infinitives

The traditional explanation of the term “infinitive group” presented above runs at right angles to the grammatical division into “coherent / incoherent” infinitives . The to-infinitive can grammatically be sentence-valued (incoherent) or it can be part of the compound predicate (coherent). In more recent editions of the DUDEN grammar, the term “infinitive group” is therefore interpreted as being equivalent to “infinitive phrase”, unlike in traditional spelling rules. In practice, most of the trailing infinitives in German have the status of subordinate clauses, for which the separation by commas does not cause any problems intuitively. The rare cases of subsequent extended infinitive groups that are not sentence-valued are, however, also usually separated by commas. The option to leave out a comma is, in turn, motivated solely by the shortness of an infinitive group, regardless of its grammatical function.

Sentence-valued (incoherent) infinitives are separated by commas if they occur at the end of the sentence after the verb (in the subsequent field ), but not if they occur inside the sentence before the end position of the verb (in the middle field). If there is an infinitive in front of it (i.e. at the beginning of the sentence in the main clause, before the finite verb), sentence-valued infinitives are treated differently by the comma rules: A comma is only mandatory if the infinitive clause is introduced in advance as an adverbial by a conjunction or preposition is (as in the example at the beginning with instead of ... to ... ), in contrast to infinitive clauses that are not introduced as subject or object.

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Duden Volume 9 - "Correct and good German", 6th edition (2007), article "Komma", section 5, p. 522
  2. ^ IDS, "German Spelling. Rules and dictionary ”- Revised rules (2006 version) (PDF) § 75, p. 82f.
  3. ^ IDS, "German Spelling. Rules and vocabulary "- Revised set of rules (2006 version) (PDF) § 75, section E1, p. 83
  4. Duden Volume 1 “The German Spelling”, 25th edition (2009), Rule K 117, p. 77
  5. For details on this: Gallmann (1997) (see under web links)
  6. DUDEN. The grammar. 8th edition, 2009. Mannheim: Dudenverlag. - see register entry “Infinitive group”, p. 1310 in connection with the chapter on infinitive, p. 846ff.
  7. The so-called "third construction", see Hubert Haider, The Syntax of German , Cambridge University Press 2010. P. 284ff.
  8. Official regulations 2006, §75