The infinitive

(The base form of the verb in German grammar)

Table of contents – infinitive

On this page you will find the following:

  1. What is the infinitive?
  2. Particularities
  3. Further explanations and exercises

What is the infinitive?

The infinitive (in German: Infinitiv or Grundform) is the basic form of the verb. It is called this way because it neither expresses a number nor a grammatical person and is, therefore, unconjugated. The infinitives of German verbs end in ‘-en, -ern,’ or ‘-eln’ in the vast majority of cases. Compare the following usage and formation:

  • Although the infinitive does not indicate either a number or a person, it can still show different tenses (Tempora) and the grammatical voice (active and passive).
    • Examples that demonstrate these features of German infinitives:
      • fragen (ask)
        • Präsens (present tense), active voice
      • gefragt werden (be asked)
        • Präsens (present), passive voice
      • gefragt haben (have asked)
        • Perfekt (perfect tense), active
      • gefragt worden sein (have been asked)
        • Perfekt (perfect), passive
  • The basic form of the verb can also be constructed with the preposition ‘zu’. It may even be included inside the word. Examples:
    • „Versuch doch einmal, es ihr auszureden.“ (Just try to talk her out of it.)
      • Präsens (present tense), active
    • „Der Film ist es wert, gesehen zu werden.“ (The film is worth seeing.)
      • Präsens (present), passive
    • „Der Sieger gab an, bereits 17 Marathons gelaufen zu sein.“ (The winner stated to have run 17 marathons.)
      • Perfekt (perfect tense), active
    • „Der Käufer betonte, vorab nicht über die Kosten aufgeklärt worden zu sein.“ (The buyer claimed that he had not been informed of the costs beforehand.)
      • Perfekt (perfect), passive
  • Very often, the infinitive is used together with modal verbs. Examples:
    • „Silke kann sehr gut singen.“ (Silke can sing very well.)
    • „Mark und Emir wollen morgen ins Kino gehen.“ (Mark and Emir want to go to the movies tomorrow.)
  • Furthermore, the infinitive functions as part of the formation of the future tense. Examples:
    • „Wir werden nächsten Monat eine neue Mitarbeiterin bekommen.“ (We are going to get a new employee next month.)
      • Futur 1 (future tense), active voice
    • „Die Umgehungsstraße wird nächstes Jahr gebaut werden.“ (The bypass will be built next year.)
      • Futur 1 (future), passive voice

What are the particularities when using the infinitive?

Sometimes, the infinitive is utilized as an imperative (command form). Then, it stands alone – with no other verb or auxiliary – in the sentence. Such usage is typical when one does not want to address the reader or listener personally but still wants to give an instruction. Compare:

  • Some example sentences of imperative infinitives:
    • „Nicht die Tauben füttern!“ (Do not feed the pigeons!)
    • „Bis zur Haltelinie vorfahren!“ (Proceed to the stop line.)
    • „Bei Rot nicht über die Straße gehen!“ (Do not cross the road when the light is red.)
  • Information: Note the different use of the exclamation mark in German orthography. For imperatives, it is required in any case.

Further explanations related to the ‘Infinitive’

The following explanations refer to the topic ‘Infinitive (basic form of the verb) in German grammar’ and could also be helpful: