The preposition “zu” in German
The meaning of “zu” in German“Zu” is a word that can create a lot of confusion amongst people that are starting to learn German. It is used as a locative preposition, temporal preposition, causal preposition, adverb and conjunction with different meanings. In our opinion, “zu” is the most complicated German word.
“zu” as a locative prepositionIn general, it indicates direction toward a place or person. It is used for saying that one is going to a person (or their home):
Tino fährt zu dir Tino is driving to your placeIf this person is a professional:
Er fährt zum Arzt He’s driving to the doctorIt is used to say that one is going to some place, or on the way to that place:
er fährt zum Flughafen He’s going to the airport
wir gehen zur Schule We are going to schoolthis place can be abstract:
er fährt zur Arbeit He’s going to work
Zu HauseThe expression “zu Hause” means to be “at home”. Take note that this does not indicate movement as “zu”usually does.
Wir sind zu Hause We’re at home
“zu” as a temporal prepositionAs a temporal presposition, “zu” can be translated as “for” or “on” where a period of time is implicit. This can be understood better with some examples:
Was kann ich zu Weihnachten kochen? What can I cook for Christmas?
Was machst du zu Halloween? What are you doing on Halloween?
zum Muttertag on/for Mother’s Day
zu Silvester on/for New Year’s
zu Ostern on/for Easter
zu Mittag at noon
“zu” as a causal preposition“Zu” as a causal preposition can be translated as “to”.
was können wir zur Vermeidung von Fehlern tun? What can we do to avoid mistakes?
“zu” as an adverb (too much)“zu” is used very often with the meaning “too much”.
Es ist zu kalt It’s too cold
Er fährt zu schnell He’s driving too fast
“zu” as an adverb (closed)“zu” is used in colloquial German with the meaning of closed
Das Fenster ist zu The window is closed
ab und zu once in a while
“zu” + InfinitiveWe are used to modal verbs needing another verb in its infinitive form so that the sentence makes sense:
Ich will tanzen I want to danceSomething similar happens to many verbs whose meaning can be completed with a subordinate clause with an infinitive. This is called “Infinitivkonstruktion” in German.
Ich weiß nicht, was zu sagen ist I’d don’t know what to say
Es gibt viel zu tun There is too much to doPay attention to how the separable verbs work in this clause:
Ich fange an, mein Leben zu ändern I’m starting to change my life
“zu” as a substitute for “dass”Sometimes, “dass” can be substituted for “zu” to not repeat the subject. The construction with “zu” is more elegant:
Er hat mir gesagt, dass ich in 3 Jahren nochmals komme sollteEr hat mir gesagt, in 3 Jahren nochmals zu kommen He told me to come again in 3 years
“zu” before nominalized verbsOften, verbs are nominalized in German. “Einkaufen” means “to go shopping” as a verb. The nominalized version “Das Einkaufen” means the same thing but is now a noun which is why it is written with capital a letter and is neuter.
Ich gehe zum Einkaufen I’m going shopping
Ich gehe zum Essen I’m going to eat
“ohne zu” + InfinitiveThe structure “ohne… zu” + INFINITIVE is the equivalent of “without + gerund” (“without knowing”, for example) in English
Ich habe das Auto gekauft, ohne zu überlegen I bought the car without thinking
Ich weiß nicht wie lange man ohne zu trinken überleben kann I don’t know how long one can survive without drinking
Ich habe dir wehgetan, ohne es zu wollen I hurt you without meaning to
Er ist meistens ohne zu frühstücken in die Schule gegangen He usually went to school without eating breakfast
“um .. zu”In subordinate clauses of purpose where the subject of both clauses is the same, “um…zu” is used. If it were different, then “damit” would be used.
Ich lerne Deutsch, um bei einer deutschen Firma zu arbeiten I’m learning German to work in a German companyBut if the subject changes with “damit”:
Wir sparen, damit meine Frau ein Auto kaufen kann We are saving money so that my wife can buy a carPurpose means that the action is carried out in the main clause (“Learning German”) to achieve a result (“to work in a German company”).
Separable verbs with the preposition “zu”Next, we´ll show some separable verbs with the particle “zu”:
- zuhören((to listen)
- zumachen (to close)
- zuordnen (to assign)
- zusperren (to close, block)
Verbs followed by the preposition “zu”
- addieren zu (to add to)
- auffordern zu (to invite to)
- beten zu (to pray to)
- einladen zu (to invite to)
- gehören zu (to belong to)
- gratulieren zu (to give congratulations to)
- passen zu (to match to)
- sagen zu (to say to)
- versuchen zu (to try to)
- weigern zu (to refuse to)
Declension of “zu”“Zu” does not change, just like all prepositions.
“zu” takes dativeWords that follow it have to be decline in the dative (it always takes dative).
zum“zum” is the contraction of “zu” + “dem”.
zur“zur” is the contraction of “zu” + “der”. 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.
- 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.