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Can pronominal adverbs be “elided” when an infinitive follows them? — for example:

Ich habe Angst davor, verrückt zu werden.

In the sentence above, davor takes the clause verrückt zu werden as an argument (compare e.g. Ich habe [Angst [vor Hunden]PP]NP). However, I’ve often heard phrases like this in spoken German “leaving out” the pronominal adverb … but, today, I even saw the phenomenon in written form:

Ich habe Angst, verrückt zu werden.

(Taken from an advertisement by the Berliner Krisendienst)

Are these two sentences (one with and without the pronominal adverb) completely interchangeable? If not, what are the differences?

1

The most important answer first: Yes, from the semantical point of view your two sentences mean absolutely the same. In fact, the second one is often preferred as it sounds more natural and less artificial.

Gramatically spoken, the sentences are somehow different. Having a look at the possibilities to use infinitive constructions you see that in both cases the infinitive construction is what we call "satzwertig" (like a sentence).

In the first case the infinitive group is dependent on the pronominal adverb ("Korrelat") whereas the infinitive group in the second case is dependent on the noun "Angst" ("attributive Infinitivgruppe").

1

I know the phrase “Angst haben” as stand-alone, or in these constructs:

  1. “Angst haben zu” + infinitive
    (extended: “Angst haben , … zu” + infinitive)

  2. “Angst haben, dass” - attributive clause

  3. Vor jemandem/etwas Angst haben”
    (extended: “davor, + attributive clause or: “vor dem/allem, + attributive clause)

  4. Um jemanden/etwas Angst haben”
    (extended: “darum, + attributive clause or: “um das/alles, + attributive clause)

Your sentences are the extended forms of 3. and 1. resp. You may also say:

Ich habe Angst, dass ich verrückt werde. (Form 2.)

Ich habe Angst vor dem Verrücktwerden. (Form 3.)

Ich habe Angst um meine geistige Gesundheit. (Form 4.)

Note, that forms 1. and 2. are restricted to what you might do (1.) and what might happen (2.). With 3. you may name arbitrary things, persons, conditions, or actions (yours and another's). I for one prefer form 1. or 2., if appropriate.

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