Unit 11: Infinitive Usages

1. Verbs that Function Like Modals

  1. sehen = “to see” and hören = “to hear”

    With sehen and hören, a dependent infinitive is used and thus a double infinitive is formed in the perfect tenses.


    Er sieht den Zug ankommen.
    He sees the train arrive.

    Sie hört ihren Bruder singen.
    She hears her brother singing.
    [or:] She hears her brother sing.

    Present perfect:

    Er hat den Zug ankommen sehen.
    He saw the train arrive.

    Sie hat ihren Bruder singen hören.
    She heard her brother sing(ing).

    Simple past:

    Er sah den Zug ankommen.
    He saw the train arrive.

    Sie hörte ihren Bruder singen.
    She heard her brother sing(ing).

  2. lassen

    This verb has several uses:

    1. lassen – to leave. In this case it functions like any other verb:

      Er läßt mich allein.
      He leaves me alone.

      Er hat mich nie allein gelassen.
      He never left me alone.

    2. lassen + (an infinitive) – to let, to allow

      Er läßt ihn gehen.
      He lets him go.

      Er hat ihn gehen lassen.
      He let him go.

      In this case, a dependent infinitive is used and in the perfect tenses a double infinitive, just as with the modal verbs.

  3. lassen + (an infinitive) – to have something done.

    Wir lassen ein Haus bauen.
    We are having a house built.

    Wir haben unser Auto reparieren lassen.  
    We had our car repaired.

    Again, you see a dependent infinitive, with a double infinitive in the perfect tenses. Note that there is no visible difference between usage #2.b above and this usage. Now that you are aware of both possible meanings for this construction, you can rely on real-world sense-making to decide which meaning is intended.

  4. sich lassen + (an infinitive) – as a substitute for the passive voice (compare Unit 9). More specifically, this usage is exactly equivalent to (and is preferred over) a combination of the modal verb können with passive voice. It might help you to think about how this usage of lassen is similar to #2.b above: something “lets itself be done.”

    Dieses Wort läßt sich nicht leicht übersetzen.
    Dieses Wort kann nicht leicht übersetzt werden.

    This word cannot be translated easily.

    Das Fenster läßt sich öffnen.
    Das Fenster kann geöffnet werden.

    The window can be opened.

    Das Fenster ließ sich öffnen.
    Das Fenster konnte geöffnet werden.
    Das Fenster hat sich öffnen lassen.
    Das Fenster hat geöffnet werden können.

    The window was able to be opened.


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

A Foundation Course in Reading German Copyright © 2014 by Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book