zu – um zu … verbs with zu as a prefix

Hi, Emmanuel

When one uses a zu-infinitive with a verb that has a separable prefix, the zu is inserted between the prefix and the verb. But what if the prefix is “zu” (or “hinzu”)? For instance, if you wanted to say “It is easy to add it to the list”, would you say

“Es ist leicht, das zu die Liste hinzuzufügen”?

(asked by Bram)

3 comments on “zu – um zu … verbs with zu as a prefix

  1. The short answer is: yes!

    there are many such forms the most common one being:

    – Ich versuche, hier zuzuhören.

    So… if grammar calls for double zu… give her what she wants :)

    Your example should be:

    “Es ist leicht, das der Liste hinzuzufügen.” … a nice dative :).

    I want to say a few words though with regard to what you said, that the zu is inserted between prefix and base. I always encourage people not to see it that way. The zu there is the most natural position. Why? Because of the what I call second-to-last-move. So suppose a verb sits in position 2. Then something happens to the sentence prompting the verb to move to the final position. This can be a past tense, a conditional, a passive, a minor sentence or a zu-construction. In either case, the movement is the same.

    – Ich höre ein Lied.
    – Ich habe ein Lied gehört.
    – Ich versuche, ein Lied zu hören.

    Hören always moves from second to final. Now what happens with a prefix:

    – Ich höre dir ZU.
    – Ich habe dir ZUgehört.
    – Ich versuche, dir ZUzuhören.

    The first zu didn’t move. Just the hören did and it maybe got something added to its beginning (ge- or zu-). And then the magnetic forces between the separable prefix and the verb draw the parts back together. Now it looks as if the ge- or the zu- has been put in there in a really tricky precise surgery when in fact all that happened was that the syllables are added to the beginning of the verb which then moves to the final position.
    Now… this is certainly not this deep insight that will clear all questions once and for all and it is totally fine to thing of it as an insertion… I just thought I’d mention it because I find the simplicity of the mechanics quite surprising… ain’t I a nerd :)

    • Bram says:


      Thanks! (And thanks for the syntax explanation–I also like knowing about that sort of thing.) Just as a side note, though, is using the dative in the sentence “Es ist leicht, das der Liste hinzuzufügen” the only correct way? My German-English dictionary says “to add something to something” is “etwas zu etwas hinzufügen”.

      • It is correct what your dictionary says. You could also say:

        Es ist leicht, das zur/zu der Liste hinzuzufügen.

        But this is a Dative too so all you do is add another zu to the sentence. In spoken German it probably happens since there are many verbs like hinzustellen, hinzulegen etc. that do not work with the direct dative… so people will produce the pattern that is more widespread. But the pure Dative sounds sooooooo much better. It sounds so good, in fact, it even sounds like a Genitive :)

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