When to use um with infinitive clauses

I’d like to understand more the use of um with infinitive clauses, because I see that sometime it appears, but other times not.

For example:

Ich habe Zeit, einen Kaffee zu kochen (yeah, I know, why would you “cook” a coffee :slight_smile:)

Does it also work with um(this sounds strange to me)?

Ich habe Zeit, um einen Kaffee zu Kochen.

2nd example (viceversa):

Ich bin vorbeigekommen, um dir etwas zu bringen.

Does this also work without um (without it, sounds strange to me)?

Ich bin vorbeigekommen, dir etwas zu bringen.

How is it?


Hello Costi,

Let me explain to you the first example. For the second I have to dig through my books a bit because I don’t know the rule by heart…(another tutor might, though :upside_down_face:)

Normally when using „um zu" we have an adverbial determination. This is a big grammar word to describe a part of the phrase. This part of the phrase describes then either a consequence of the main clause or its purpose.

Let’s have a look at your example:

„Ich habe Zeit," (=main clause that states illustrates a condition, which is that you have time)
„einen Kaffe zu kochen" (=adverbial determination which states the consequence, which is that you make yourself a coffee)

Let me give you another example:
„Wir sprangen ins Wasser, um uns abzukühlen" (We jumped into the water to cool off )
„Wir sprangen ins Wasser," (=main clause = fact)
„um uns abzukühlen" (= adverbial determination = purpose -> you did this in order to cool off)

In these two cases the correct use is „um zu", but especially when dealing with written language, „um" can be omitted without any difference in semantic meaning. This means you can use „um zu" or just „zu" to build your sentence and it is always 100%ly correct.

Let me know if you have any questions concerning this first example, meanwhile I try to come up with an explanation for the second example :slightly_smiling_face:


Thanks, Sarah, for your explanation. It really helped me to understand better. After reading a bit about “adverbial determination” and “infinitive groups”, my conclusion (my understanding) is the following:

#1. The general statement: infinitive clauses are constructed with zu.
#2. Adverbial determination is a subset of these “infinitive clauses” and express a purpose or a consequence => in that case we use um...zu.
#3. (for completeness - I know I did not ask about it) There’s a third situation called nominalization = when the verb becomes a noun: zum Essen, zum Schlafen.

Back to my examples:

Ich habe Zeit, einen Kaffee zu kochen.
Ich habe Zeit, um einen Kaffee zu kochen.
Both are grammatically correct, they have a similar but probably not identical meaning:

  • Ich habe Zeit, einen Kaffee zu kochen. uses a general infinitive clause… it could be interpreted as “I’m home, I have a lot of time, I can prepare a coffee, but that is not the purpose of being home”
  • Ich habe Zeit, um einen Kaffee zu kochen. uses an adverbial determination construct, in which there’s a circumstance (“I have time”) for a given purpose (“to prepare coffee”). If I extrapolate on this meaning, one could draw the conclusion that “there may not be time for something else”)
    Additional question here: can I use nominalization here, like: `Ich habe Zeit einen Kaffee zum Kochen"?

On the same principle, in my second scenario:

Ich bin vorbeigekommen, dir etwas zu bringen.
Ich bin vorbeigekommen, um dir etwas zu bringen.
even though both are grammatically correct, I believe only the “um…zu” variant is semantically correct: “I come by your home in_order_to bring you something” (there’s always a purpose)

As I’m still beginner in German (A2) I don’t necessarily want to be super correct in what I described above. I’m sure I’ll have opportunities in the future to learn more about them… but please let me know if I’m terribly wrong in my understanding.

Thanks a lot!


Hello Costi,

sorry for this late response.

You really dug in! Well done! :slightly_smiling_face:

Concerning the first scenario:
The first phrases are identical in meaning. There is no difference in semantic meaning when using ‘um’ or when omitting it.
The third construction is incorrectly used, though. An option would be to say: Ich habe Zeit zum Kaffeekochen. ‘Kaffeekochen’ as an action like eg. Deutschlernen can be used this way, but then the sentence refers to the entire action of it. It’s not emphasising so much the purpose, only that you have time to carry out this action. The difference is very fine.

Second scenario:
I forgot to mention it in my previous response, but you cannot omit ‘um’ here. It is simply wrong to say: Ich bin vorbeigekommen, dir etwas zu bringen. You must use ‘um’.
As you correctly explained, ‘um’ is necessary to connect the two phrases, it functions as prepositions that shows the purpose 'of your coming by '.

I hope, I was able to help you.