(a) Ich habe nicht erwartet, dass er dich besuchen wollen hat.

(b) Ich habe nicht erwartet, dass er dich hat besuchen wollen.

Which word ordering is correct?

I've seen that sometimes "hat" is placed in front of the double infinitive. Is this one of those cases?

  • 2
    I don't know the reason, but my immature Sprachgefühl something tells me you rather need a modal verb like in Ich habe nicht erwartet, dass er dich besuchen (kommen) konnte; I might be plain wrong though. Also, I'm not sure if you need to write kommen.
    – c.p.
    Jan 24 '14 at 20:56
  • Er hat Dich nicht besuchen kommen, sondern er ist Dich besuchen kommen. Er hat Dich betrügen wollen. Ich ersetze das Beispiel. Jan 25 '14 at 0:49
  • @userunknown: what's wrong with "besuchen wollen"??? Er wollte dich besuchen, aber du warst nicht da
    – Takkat
    Jan 25 '14 at 11:52
  • @Takkat: Nichts, aber es war 'besuchen kommen hat', welches 'besuchen kommen ist' wäre, wenn. Bei der Suche nach einem Beispiel stieß ich sogleich auf betrügen wollen und reflektierte leider nicht, dass es am wollen, nicht am betrügen hängt. Du hast übrigens zwei Fragezeichen zu viel. Jan 25 '14 at 12:30
  • 1
    @userunknown this has made the accepted answer not fit the question anymore. Bad idea.
    – Carsten S
    Jan 28 '14 at 8:43

Ich habe nicht erwartet, dass er dich besuchen würde.

-> You will need to use the conditional just like in English.
For the double infinitive: This combination will almost never work out, but just to play around, those will be correct:

  • Ich habe nicht geglaubt, dass er dich besucht hat. (easy)
  • Ich habe nicht geglaubt, dass er dich besuchen gekommen ist. (not hat with kommen!)
  • Ich habe nicht geglaubt, dass er dich besuchen können hat.


Ich habe nicht geglaubt, dass er dich hat besuchen können.

is perfectly acceptable, too.

Ich habe nicht geglaubt, dass er dich ist besuchen gekommen.

This is awkward, but if you want to focus on the fact that HE visited YOU (really?), it is understandable.

In general you're safe to put it last but there are uses for the middle hat, not so many for ist.

Ich glaube nicht, dass er dich hat weglaufen sehen.

Ich glaube nicht, dass er dich weglaufen gesehen hat.

See the difference? It is not always the same, but both are okay.


As far as only word order is concerned, (b) would be correct. However, there are two problems with (b). One is that this is probably not what you want to say as it's hard to come up with a context in which it would make much sense. We can rectify this by replacing erwartet by gesagt to get better examples:

(a) Ich habe nicht gesagt, dass er dich besuchen wollen hat.

(b) Ich habe nicht gesagt, dass er dich hat besuchen wollen.

(c) Ich habe nicht gesagt, dass er dich besuchen hat wollen.

As you can see, I have added a third word order. Only (b) is officially correct, but it sounds very stilted and awkward. (Which is the second problem.) (a) is correct in some dialects, so speakers of those dialects tend to use it in standard German even though it's not correct there. (c) is the word order used in Dutch and probably also in some German dialects, but not correct in standard German.

Basically you have found a defect in the German language. In a century or so this will probably have been resolved one way or another, but today most people avoid the issue as follows:

(d) Ich habe nicht gesagt, dass er dich besuchen wollte.

I think the reason for the awkwardness is that it only works like that when the infinitive (here: wollen) is used in place of the past participle (here: gewollt), as in this case. In colloquial German most people would typically use gewollt, in which case only the word order of (a) would be correct:

(a') Ich habe nicht gesagt, dass er dich besuchen gewollt hat.

To be clear: (a') is the only correct way of saying it in most colloquial varieties of German, but it is wrong in Standard German.

So it's a really weird corner case of the language.


The second example

(b) Ich habe nicht erwartet, dass er dich hat besuchen wollen.

would be grammatically correct, although it would sound quite formal or anachronistic in an informal setting.

You have two parts here:

Er hat dich besuchen wollen.


Ich habe dies [diese Aussage] nicht geglaubt.

In informal spoken language Germans tend to use the Present Perfect over the Simple Past (Imperfekt / Präteritum) which is perceived as more formal and "written language"-ish. In cases where the Present Perfect does lead to constructions with two infinitives - like in your example - however, most speakers would fall back to the easier Simple Past version (if you're bored you can read about the principle of speech econony). So in a conversation it's far more likely the sentence would be formed this way:

Er wollte dich besuchen.

Combined with the other part, it would result in:

Ich habe nicht geglaubt, dass er dich besuchen wollte.

While your example (b) is formally correct, this is what a native speaker would say in most cases.


Double infinitives are used when modals are involved:

dürfen, wollen, mögen, sollen, werden, können

When the helping verb haben is used with modal verbs, the modal verbs stay the same.They don't change into their past participles.

Ich habe den Schlüssel für das Haus nicht finden können.
I was not able to find the keys to the house.

See that the modal verb können did not change in the sentence, but when it stands alone with haben it changes into its past participle.

Ich habe immer dieses Haus gewollt.

When a subordinate conjunction (for example dass, ob) is used the auxiliary verb goes to the end of the sentence.

Ich weiß nicht, ob er den Schlüssel zum Haus nicht hat finden können.

  • The very last sentence is wrong. "Ich weiß nicht, ob er...". The idiomatic ending of this sentence would be "...den Schlüssel gefunden hat". In order to make your point here, you could rephrase this to "...den Schlüssel nicht finden konnte" or "...den Schlüssel nicht hat finden können". Both, however, quite odd while grammatically fine. – I incorporated the last one into your answer. Feel free to rollback, if you disagree.
    – Em1
    Jan 29 '14 at 7:38
  • I thought the 'hat' goes to the very end of the sentence?The sentence structure you made is very similar to that of Dutch. Jan 29 '14 at 8:01
  • This is the exception that proves the rule. ;) – Actually, this is valid for any kind of sentences with Ersatzinfinitiv. That infinitive is always in the last position.
    – Em1
    Jan 29 '14 at 8:39

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