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I came across this when reading the German translation of the Book of Mormon:

Denn das, was ihr mich habt tun sehen, ja, das sollt ihr tun.

The English part reads:

For that which ye have seen me do even that shall ye do.

There are a few things that I don't understand:

  1. Why is "sehen" used here instead of "gesehen", the past participle?

  2. Why isn't "habt" at the end of the phrase?

  3. Why the accusative "mich" instead of "mir"?

  4. Why is the preposition "zu" not placed before "tun"?

It's as if "sehen" were behaving as a modal verb, but even that doesn't explain everything.

If I were to translate the phrase with my own limited experience, I would write:

Denn das, was ihr mir zu tun gesehen habt, ...

Why was this phrase translated as it is, and what would be the most common (or natural) German translation of the English phrase "to see one do", for example:

The crime I saw him do

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As for your last question, I would indeed say "Das Verbrechen, das ich ihn habe begehen sehen." No wonder you're having some trouble here - even for a native speaker, this construction is a bit complicated. –  Hendrik Vogt May 30 '12 at 20:10
Is the complete sentence "Denn das, was ihr mich habt tun sehen, ja, das sollt ihr tun."? That sentence is not easy, but absolutely OK. Not very easy, to explain. One thing is very easy ;p "Mich" because you can ask: "Who have you seen?"//"Wen habt ihr gesehen?". That question shows that it is the accusative case. The others are a bit more complicated to explain. –  Em1 May 30 '12 at 22:36
Btw. you use "zu" like "to" in English. "He forced me to do..." - "Er zwang mich zu tun..." –  Em1 May 30 '12 at 22:37
@Em1 That makes sense. I guess I couldnt justify knowing whether "I saw him to do it" in german made better sense or not. For example, in English we wouldn't normally say something like "I imagined him do it" But you can say "I imagined him to do it," so I always thought to be safe that I always use "zu" whenever the verb isn't modal. –  Dougvj May 30 '12 at 23:28
Side note: The sentence "The crime I saw him do" would be more natural "The crime I saw him doing". The former is an emphasis on the result, while the latter emphasizes the process. And I think that's what you most times want to connote, don't you? However, @HendrikVogt translation is fine either way, though not typically. –  Em1 May 31 '12 at 7:58
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1 Answer

up vote 14 down vote accepted

Welcome to GL&U!

Your sentence uses a double infinitive forming the perfect tense in a dependent / subordinate clause. That sounds kind of complicated, but break it down into its smaller parts and then put it back together (I did also find an English page for you that further explains some of these peculiarities).

First, recognize that a subordinate or dependent clause can change the word order around. So, you want to start off by finding the main verb of the subordinate clause (which is "sehen"), and see that it uses a helping or auxiliary verb ("habt") to form the perfect tense (just find the verbs for now and don't worry yet about if it uses ge- or not, since it's your first go-over). Next, determine who it was that did the sehen (which is "ihr"). Then add whom ihr saw (which is "mich"), and finally tag on the what you all saw me do (the "was" and the "tun"), which refers back to the antecedent das from the preceding sentence, which was probably something like "Tut das, was ihr..."

Now I'll try to summarize what you are specifically asking.

  1. When forming a double infinitive, the ge- is normally dropped and the infinitive form used, although it is technically possible to use the ge- form unless you're using modals (wollen, mögen, etc.), for example.

  2. The auxiliary verb (habt in this case) must lead the verbs in a double infinitive construction.

  3. The accusative mich is used because sehen is the main verb doing the action, and it requires accusative.

  4. In a double infinitive construction, the zu is normally dropped.

This construction does behave this way with any type of auxiliary verb, whether modals or haben or whatever.

These are general rules, but I hope that helps get you going. Everyone feel free to point out anything I've missed with the grammar.

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Excellent explanation. The link you sent hit it spot on: "The same is true of verbs of perception that take an infinitive without "zu." "Sie hört ihn singen" becomes "Sie hat ihn singen hören." and "In these cases, the double infinitive remains in the final position in dependent clauses, and the "haben" slips into the second-the-last place:" That's exactly what I was looking for. Well Done! –  Dougvj May 31 '12 at 10:31
The "Zwiebelfisch" lists sentences where there even is a triple infinitive: "Wir haben uns den Weg zeigen lassen müssen". ;) –  Takkat May 31 '12 at 11:27
I'm glad it all helped, Dougvj. Great addition, Takkat. :-) –  Kevin May 31 '12 at 13:11
And Takkat, you could even start that phrase with a "daß" to throw all the verbs together completely, lol. Bastian Sick is so great. :-) –  Kevin May 31 '12 at 13:22
Wir hätten uns den Weg zeigen lassen können gewollt. :-) –  celtschk Jun 13 '12 at 12:05
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