“Zu” is more than a just a preposition — Using zu-constructions
In one of my lessons this week a student asked me about the word “zu”. She knew that zu is a dative preposition and that it means to in English. I was very happy to hear that those facts about zu had stayed with my student. But then I had to give her a little more information: zu can also be used like the English word too (z.B. zu viel, zu gross, zu spät). When I asked her why she was suddenly asking about the word zu. She then told me that she had recently realized that there are often sentences in German that end with zu and a verb. And there it was… the zu-construction.
It is often useful in German to use a zu-construction when writing or speaking. We use it when we want to have a second clause that adds information to the preceding clause, but does not repeat the subject.
Why do you want to learn to use zu-constructions? They add variety to your language and by learning the some of the common introductory phrases you are learning German collocations, which will increase your speaking and writing fluency.
Let’s take a look at some of the characteristics of the zu-construction.
- Zu-constructions don’t have a subject. It’s left out.
- The zu-construction can relate back to either the subject or the object of the preceding main clause.
- Because zu-constructions don’t have a subject the verb cannot be conjugated. Therefore, the verb is always in the infinitive. For this reason many German grammar books call this construction the Infinitivkonstruktion.
- The infinitive verb is always placed at the end of the sentence.
- Zu and the infinitive are written as two words.
- If the verb has a separable prefix the zu is placed between the prefix and the verb and written together. (z.B. Er versucht, das Fenster aufzumachen. Er versucht, das Fenster wieder zuzumachen.)
- If the supplementary clause has a modal verb, it is placed after the zu and the other verb before it.
So there we have it, the seven rules of zu-constructions.
Sometimes a zu-construction can be used to replace a dass-construction, if you are trying to add more variety to your writing or speaking. Let’s compare.
- Ich hoffe, dass ich meine Jugendliebe bald wiedersehe.
- I hope that I will soon see my childhood sweetheart again.
- Ich hoffe, meine Jugendliebe bald wiederzusehen.
- I hope to see my childhood sweetheart again soon.
As long as the introductory clause and verb allow for further information to be given either a dass-construction or zu-construction are possible. If the supplementary clause deals with the same subject or object as in the introductory clause, a zu-construction is possible. It is recommended to separate the two clauses using a comma.
There are a few verbs that are often used to introduce zu-constructions like hoffen (to hope) and versuchen (to try), which we have already seen above. Let’s take a look at some other common verbs that often used to introduce the zu-constructions. A vertical line separating a prefix from the verb means that the verb has a separable prefix.
There are also adjectives and participles that are often used to introduce a zu-construction. The adjectives must be used in combination with the verb sein. Often the subject es is used in the introductory clause, as a general statement is being made.
There are also several noun-verb combinations that are often used to introduce zu-constructions.
In conclusion, zu-constructions are a useful and common way of adding additional information to a sentence without the need to repeat the subject. The introductory clauses are very useful to learn, so that you have set phrases for speaking German.
Complete these sentences with your own information:
- Ich finde es schwer…
- Ich versuche…
- Es ist Zeit…
- Ich habe vergessen…
- Es ist zu spät…
- Es macht mir Spass…