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Sie hat sich gestern von ihm scheiden lassen.

This sentence uses the infinitive lassen instead of the perfect participle gelassen. Which grammatical rule causes this?

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Have also a look at this question and the helpful link to that is introduced in that question – Em1 Sep 10 '12 at 12:34
up vote 27 down vote accepted

This is the so-called Ersatzinfinitiv. It is used with the following verbs:

  • lassen — Sie haben sich scheiden lassen.
  • müssen — Er hat sie nehmen müssen.
  • können — Ich habe ihn treffen können.
  • dürfen — Sie hat ihn küssen dürfen.
  • wollen — Wir haben Dich sehen wollen.
  • sollen — Ich habe ihn pflegen sollen.
  • mögen — Sie hat mich nicht sehen mögen.
  • brauchen — Er hat mich nicht rufen brauchen.
  • hören — Wir haben ihn atmen hören.
  • sehen — Das habe ich kommen sehen.
  • heißen — Wir haben ihn gehen heißen. (= Wir haben ihn aufgefordert, zu gehen. This usage of heißen is mostly obsolete.)

Depending on the dialect, fühlen and helfen can be added to the list.

For details, check out e.g. Zwiebelfisch:

Normalerweise wird das Perfekt immer mit einer Form von haben oder sein plus dem Perfektpartizip gebildet [...] Hängt vom Verb aber eine Infinitivkonstruktion ab, wenn es also nicht bloß Ich höre dich heißt, sondern Ich höre dich atmen, dann tritt im Perfekt anstelle des Partizips (gehört) eine zweite Grundform auf, ein sogenannter Ersatzinfinitiv: Ich habe dich atmen hören.

And further:

Bei Verben der Wahrnehmung wie "sehen" und "hören" sind indes beide Formen möglich, was wohl auch der Grund für die gelegentliche Verunsicherung ist. Und auch bei "lassen" bleiben wir ganz gelassen und lassen uns beide Paar Schuhe passen. Den Beispielsatz "Die Partei hat den Kandidaten fallen lassen" gibt es auch in der Variante "Die Partei hat den Kandidaten fallen gelassen". Beides gilt als korrekt.

Emphasis mine.

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Shouldn't it be Wir haben ihn willkommen geheißen? – swegi May 25 '11 at 12:09
@swegi: Why? This question regards why it should not. – Tim May 27 '11 at 20:10
@Tim: It just sounds more correct to me. – swegi May 27 '11 at 20:13
There is also a grammIS article about the Ersatzinfinitiv. – elena May 16 '12 at 7:10
@swegi is absolutely right, because willkommen is no verb. I’ve edited the answer to give a correct example (but jemanden etwas tun heißen is obsolete anyway). – chirlu Sep 9 '13 at 15:45

This seems to be always the case when the supposed participle (e.g. lassen) goes with an infinitive (e.g. scheiden).

Ich kann fliehen. Ich habe fliehen können.

Ich kann nichts. Ich habe nichts gekonnt.

Most of the concerned verbs are "Modalverben" in German and follow this rule (have a look at

So, you might say that lassen is used as a "Modalverb" here.

Here a very common example from a children's rhyme:

Susi hat sich küssen lassen. (Susi let herself be kissed.)

Now, I finally understand that the point of this rhyme is practicing this exception.

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Thanks! Are there any other words except for modal verbs and lassen that behave like this? Also: Is this always the case with lassen preceded by an infinitive? – Tim May 24 '11 at 20:49
@Tim: Yes, with the caveat that you might construct a sequence where "lassen" is preceded by an infinitive that grammatically belongs to a subphrase and not to "lassen". – Phira May 24 '11 at 20:54
Although this is true for standard German, there are quite some dialects where the perfect participle is commonly used to in those cases. – Koraktor May 24 '11 at 21:23
@Koraktor: Would you mind listing them? (Or should this be a new question?) – Tim May 24 '11 at 22:02

It's a passive action, in German (as well as in English(?), you don't "divorce", you "get divorced".
"Sich scheiden lassen" is the action that belongs to "Die Scheidung".

Also, the word "hat" is the past tense form of "haben", so the past tense is already defined in that statement and "lassen" can and must stay in the infinitive form.

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What is the difference between this sentence and "Sie hat sich gestern von ihm getrennt", where the past participle is used? – Tim May 24 '11 at 20:48
@Jesmus42 I don't think "hat" is always in the past tense. It can be used for many tenses--your statement is somewhat misleading. – Glen Wheeler May 25 '11 at 9:17
@Tim: "sich von jemandem trennen" is similiar to "sich scheiden lassen", but it does not equal "divorce", it's just "to break up". As far as grammar is concerned, thei's and RegDwight's answers are more accurate, sorry for that. – Jemus42 May 25 '11 at 14:59
They're certainly different verbs. I was wondering why one uses the perfect participle while the other does not. – Tim May 25 '11 at 15:05
@Tim at this point it comes back to the passive/active concept. "Sich scheiden lassen" is a passive action, "sich trennen" is an active action, both rely on different rules when it comes to past tense. – Jemus42 May 25 '11 at 15:09

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