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In writing an email to some friends, I was told that it's better to write

Bitte gib uns Bescheid, wenn du planst teilzunehmen.

instead of

Bitte gib uns Bescheid, wenn du teilzunehmen planst.

I had thought that German grammar rules required the second. Is this not the case when the construction includes two non-auxiliary or non-modal verbs?

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up vote 3 down vote accepted

The reason seems to be that the sentence consists of three clauses and that infinitive clauses are treated much like subordinate clauses. [1,2]

These are the three clauses:

  1. The main clause (Hauptsatz), "Bitte gib uns Bescheid".
  2. The subordinate clause (Nebensatz), "wenn du planst", which is dependent on the main clause.
  3. The infinitive clause (Infinitivkonstruktion), "teilzunehmen", which is dependent of the subordinate clause.

The infinitive clause is a clause that lacks a subject and whose verb is written "zu" + infinitive at the end. It may contain other types of sentence parts such as objects and adverbs, e.g.:

"Bitte gib uns Bescheid, wenn du planst an der Veranstaltung teilzunehmen."

Whenever the infinitive clause contains more than just "zu" + verb, it is allowed to place a comma:

"Bitte gib uns Bescheid, wenn du planst, an der Veranstaltung teilzunehmen."

This makes the sentence easier to read and makes it more apparent that there are three clauses in the sentence.

References: [1] [2]

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Both constructions are correct.

  1. The first example is a coherent construction, where the extended infinitive is the infinite part of the predicate.

  2. The second example is an incoherent construction, where the extended infinitive is appended. This construction sometimes must be separated with a comma.

Bitte gib uns Bescheid, wenn du (an der Veranstaltung) teilzunehmen planst.

This is a coherent construction. Since "wenn" can only initiate a relative clause, the finite verb (planst) must be at the end.

Bitte gib uns Bescheid, wenn du planst, (an der Veranstaltung) teilzunehmen.

In this incoherent construction "planning" is specified by the infintive group. In this case a comma seems optional, although I would recommend one for longer constructions.

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Perhaps what they meant was this:

Bitte gib uns Bescheid, wenn du planst, teilzunehmen.

where "teilzunehmen" is a single infinitive clause consisting only of "zu" and a verb. since the verb is separable, the "zu" is inserted between the separable prefix and the verb proper.

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This is what he wrote. The comma is optional. – Carsten S Apr 12 '14 at 13:06
@CarstenSchultz: Was that changed in the spelling reform (of course they changed not only the spelling in that reform, otherwise the question would be pointless)? I ask because I remember that no comma would be allowed in this case (I prefer the version with comma, though), and I wonder if I just misremember or if the rule changed. – celtschk Apr 13 '14 at 8:10

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